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Local official looks for transit perspectives

By Justin Boron

County Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer will spend the next couple of days gleaning ideas from nationwide transit officials that might help move forward plans for the commuter rail set to begin service from Lovejoy to downtown Atlanta in 2006.

Rhodenizer said he hopes to net some insight at this week's American Public Transportation Association convention in Atlanta, where local officials will mix with transit experts to address possible solutions to metro Atlanta's transit and air pollution problems.

At Monday's meetings, discussion favored the push for more state involvement in the funding process, which is critical for rail expansion, he said.

Georgia's contribution to the remediation of city transit woes pales in comparison to the efforts of other Southern states like Florida and North Carolina, Rhodenizer said.

One way to get more financial support from the state would be a gasoline tax hike. But the state has been reluctant to carry out such a measure, he said.

Regardless of who pays for it, rail expansion needs to happen, Rhodenizer said.

"Rail eats up a lot of cash, but it carries a lot of people," he said.

While the inefficiency of Atlanta's transit system has been exposed in recent years, the system still rates in the top 10 nationally, said Donna Agazio, spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Association.

"From a nationwide perspective, Atlanta has a good reputation," she said.

"Many other systems around the country are experiencing similar money problems," Agazio said.

"It's a reflection of the economy," she said.

Judging from past transit conferences, visitors are most impressed with the MARTA service from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to downtown Atlanta, said Emory Brock, the Clayton County director of economic development.

This conference also gives state leaders a chance to show off the Atlanta area's new express bus system, which began operation in June.

The express system has provided a commute alternative for people heading into the city from the suburbs.

In Clayton County, Ramona Thurman-Price has changed her commuting practices as part of the area's Clean Air Campaign.

She said she takes the express bus three times a week from the county justice center and telecommutes once a week.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.