Officials plan for commuter rail

By April Avison

Henry and Clayton county officials say communication is key as they prepare to move forward with plans for a commuter rail line that would extend service to Hampton and Griffin from Lovejoy.

"Communities develop around transportation hubs that have commuter rail," said Dana Lemon, a Henry County resident who serves on the state Department of Transportation board. "What has happened to those communities is phenomenal, and that's where the tax dollars come in."

Lemon hosted a forum recently at the Henry County Chamber of Commerce with Clayton County Commissioner and Georgia Rail Passenger Authority representative Carl Rhodenizer.

"When we were discussing C-TRAN, there were people who objected to public transportation that would say they would never use it, and I would say to them, ?But don't you wish the person in front of you was on the bus?'" Rhodenizer said. "You as leaders have to look 10 to 15 years down the road."

Henry County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Al Hosford agreed, encouraging elected officials to look to the future.

"We really need to partner with Griffin and Spalding County. We need to start some dialogue and see how we can make this work," Hosford said. "Don't let us look back 15 years from now and say, ?Why didn't we do this?'"

According to information distributed by Georgia Railway Consultants, the second phase of the Macon-Atlanta commuter rail line would extend service 18 miles to Griffin and Hampton, increasing ridership by 45 percent, adding 360,000 annual trips. The proposed total capital cost for the extension is $37 million.

Some officials, including Hampton City Councilman Arley Lowe and District II Commissioner-elect Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis, have expressed concern that the rail may negatively affect the city of Hampton.

Mathis said the ridership may be low due to the $5.80 one-way trip cost.

"People who can afford this live closer to the McDonough area," Mathis said, noting that residents who live several miles from the proposed location of the rail may not be inclined to drive to Hampton and leave their cars there so they can take the rail to Atlanta.

But advocates of the program say that once it is in place, the people and businesses that will support it will follow.

"There will be development opportunities where, if you plan correctly like Jonesboro and Forest Park have, you can take advantage of those transportation hubs," Lemon said. "You're going to see an influx of people and businesses around these hubs to grow and develop."

Funding for the $37 million in capital costs is planned to consist of $29.6 million in federal funds and $7.4 million in matching funds. The annual operating assistance of $544,000 will be provided by local governments, according to Georgia Railway Consultants. If full funding is provided in Fiscal Year 2006, the extension to Hampton and Griffin would begin in fall 2008.