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Transit Planning Board to unveil 30-year plan

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The Transit Planning Board will present a vision for the Southern Crescent's future next month, and speak to area leaders in hopes of moving that vision toward action.

The meeting will display the planning board's 30-year transportation plan to government and civic leaders from Henry, Clayton, Fayette and Spalding counties, and will be held in McDonough. It will be hosted by the Henry County Chamber of Commerce.

"It'll be rolled out for everyone to look at," said Kay Pippin, chamber president. "It's obviously a vision and a concept and the Transportation Planning Board is looking to have as many interested people as possible see the plan, while it's in its development stages."

The 30-year plan, called "Concept Plan 3," proposes commuter rail through Lovejoy, Hampton and on to Griffin, express and arterial bus lines running through McDonough, Jonesboro, Griffin, Fayetteville, Peachtree City and crisscrossing northern Clayton County.

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, who also is chairman of the TPB, said the proposed plan in "revolutionary" and "represents the first time we have come together and developed such a comprehensive outline for transit in our region."

The TPB has been working on the plan since it was created in 2006 by a joint resolution of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and the Atlanta Regional Commission. The plan is due for completion in 2008.

Cheryl King, TPB executive director, said the concept plan focuses on alternate forms of transportation and ought to be understood as a response to a crisis.

"We cannot build enough roads fast enough to address the growth that we are experiencing," King said. "We need transit. We need roads. We need bike paths. We need everything to make sure our area isn't paralyzed with gridlock."

Pippin said the Henry County Chamber of Commerce has been in support of regional transit systems, but the details of a vision plan will be made public at the Feb. 13 meeting.

"Now, it's our time to see if that's the plan we all want," she said. "We cannot assume that roads and cars will continue to meet our needs. We are the only metropolitan city in the world, to my knowledge, that does not have a good transit system. That cannot continue. [Transit system alternatives] do answer some of those problems, so we look forward to having good discussions with some of our neighbors."

According to Pippin, a good plan will be easily accessible to citizens of the Southern Crescent, will give easy access to downtown as well as the ability to travel east-to-west between the counties, will relieve congestion on the intestates and will be affordable.

Cost will probably be the biggest hurdle to any transportation plan, regardless of which governments and civic groups endorse it. The Georgia Department of Transportation has reported a $7.7 billion transportation funding shortfall over the next six years for road construction and improvement projects and a $51 billion shortfall for the 27 years of road repairs and improvements. The shortfall does not include money which the department doesn't have for alternate transportation projects.

King said the TPB is interested in the idea of a regional, or state-wide sales tax, an idea which has been proposed by some in the state legislature. Other funding mechanisms are being considered by commuter rail supporters.

"We've got a transportation crisis going on and we need to look at solving that problem," King said.

The briefing on the 30-year transit plan will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 5:30 p.m., in the Hudgins Room at the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, at 1709 Ga. Highway 120 West, in McDonough. For more information, visit www.tpb.ga.gov