Commuter rail steams ahead

By Justin Boron

Slowly but surely the commuter rail is becoming a reality, transit officials say.

Rail developers reiterated their confidence in the success of the commuter rail Tuesday evening at a public hearing in Jonesboro.

Residents from as far away as Barnesville attended the meeting to catch a glimpse of the plans for the project set to begin service from Lovejoy in the fall of 2006.

Not much has changed on the project since officials last updated their progress in September, said Christopher Kingsbury, a program manager for the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority.

But the occasion was an attempt to steady public confidence on the $106 million project, said Clayton County Board of Commissioners member Carl Rhodenizer, who has led rail efforts for the county.

Commission Chairman-elect Eldrin Bell expressed his certainty over the rail in a lyric.

"I dream the dream, the dream was beauty," he said. "I woke to find the dream was duty."

Kingsbury said federal funds are programmed for the first three years of operation. Municipalities have promised to pick up the operating costs after the three-year period, he said.

In the Clayton County Administration building, poster boards contained maps showing the two alternate locations for stations in Lovejoy and Jonesboro, where developers expect boarding to be at its highest.

Earlier sites became unusable and were scrapped, said Doug Alexander, another rail program manager with the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority.

The new station in Lovejoy will be on the east side of U.S. Highway 19/41 just south of Lovejoy Road. Developers estimate the Lovejoy daily ridership to be 1,240 by 2030.

In Jonesboro, the station will be a platform over the rail in the center of the downtown area as part of the city's revitalization efforts. The 2030 ridership is estimated for 1,600 in Jonesboro.

Fares, which include a MARTA transfer, will vary depending on where passengers board.

A ride from Lovejoy will cost a commuter $5.60 one-way. In Forest Park, the fare decreases to $3.60.

With property acquisition scheduled to begin this spring, some citizens are beginning to take the rail seriously.

Lovejoy resident John Cannon said he feared the rail would endanger the way of life in the burgeoning city.

"It's getting to grown-up down there," he said. "I've seen too many towns that whenever you put a train in like that, the crime rate goes up."

Cannon also said he is concerned about increased traffic and noise from the station planned to go in near his neighborhood.

The rail is even worrying the kids in town, his daughter said.

"Kids are talking about it because their parents are talking about it," she said.

A noise impact assessment of the project found 1,138 residences and one library that would be affected. More than 150 of the residences would have a "severe" impact, according to the assessment.

Rhodenizer downplayed the anxious sentiment, saying past transit projects also raised concerns.

"They said that about C-TRAN, and it didn't happen," he said. "They said that about MARTA, and it didn't happen."