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Authority pushing for rail line

By Billy Corriher

The Georgia Rail Passenger Authority passed a resolution Tuesday supporting a plan to install a commuter rail line from Atlanta to Lovejoy, with stops in East Point, Morrow, Forest Park and Jonesboro.

The Georgia Department of Transportation's plan to implement the Clayton County portion of the Macon to Atlanta rail corridor was unveiled two weeks ago, but must be approved by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The DOT's plan has received support from Clayton County and several of its municipalities, but Perdue could still veto the measure.

Loretta Lepore, a spokeswoman for the Governor's office, said Perdue has not decided whether or not to support the DOT proposal.

The governor "is analyzing the data and waiting on all the information to come in," she said.

Rep. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna, is a former chairman of the Cobb County transportation board. Stoner said he supports the DOT plan and will encourage other legislators to do the same.

"I really cannot see how this will not succeed," he said. "We've been very conservative and very realistic in this proposal."

Getting the Lovejoy rail up and running by 2006 will cost $106 million, but the DOT says $87 million is already earmarked for the Macon-Atlanta line, and the DOT can supply an additional $19 million for highway crossing improvements and park and ride lots.

The DOT says it will cost riders $5.60 for the 45-minute trip from Lovejoy to Atlanta, and shorter trips will cost less.

The DOT estimates the line would carry 3,000 passengers on weekdays, saving the remaining drivers 800,000 hours of traffic congestion every year.

Fares and federal grants will cover operating costs for the first three years, but the DOT is searching for operating funds after that.

Emory McClinton of the state transportation board said that, since the rail line will encourage economic development in adjoining areas, the municipalities should think about pitching in with operating expenses.

"Everyone is going to have to find a way to support (the rail line)," he said.

McClinton said if the DOT does not begin operating the Clayton County portion of the Macon-Atlanta line, the federal funds could be taken back.

"Our chances of keeping (the funding) are becoming very slim," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to make sure Congress can not re-appropriate those funds."

Clayton County Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer, chairman of the rail authority, said getting the Lovejoy line in operation is a "good beginning" for the line to eventually run to Macon.

"There's a lot of work yet to be done," he said.