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What's next for transportation planning board?

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

As the Transportation Planning Board's "big vision" and "aspirational plan" for a regional public transit system is nearly complete, the board and its staff are coming closer to asking what may be the really challenging question: Now what?

"How do you tame this beast?" said Michael Halicki, a consultant for TPB. "Looking at this largely aspirational plan, you have to ask: 'How do you stage this?' 'What's the first piece on this?' 'How do you go down this path?'"

The TPB is a temporary agency, formed in 2006 and scheduled to offer up a transportation plan and a strategy by the end of this year -- before it disbands. On Thursday, after a final open house, displaying its "Concept Plan 3 Regional Transit Vision" in Clayton County, the board's staff was discussing possible "end-game" strategies.

The TPB hosted nine meetings around the metro Atlanta area, displaying and explaining the plan for a multi-modal, public transportation system that would cover the region, deliver it from traffic congestion, and launch it into the economic future.

In January, the 30-year plan was rolled out in Henry County, where about 60 people attended and the county's Chamber of Commerce pushed for public support of it. The last open house was held in Clayton County Thursday night.

Most of the feedback from the public during the four months of presentation was project- and-area-specific, according to Halicki, and TPB Executive Director Cheryl King. The suggested tweaking is being incorporated into the plan. The next step is a technical committee, so designers and engineers can look at specific suggestions, King said.

As the feedback is being considered and incorporated, the board and its staff are starting to work on implementation strategies. King said the TPB knows it has to present a vision, but it also has to present the piecemeal strategy.

"The vision provides the big picture," King said. "We have to have a big picture and show how all these different projects fit in the picture. We can't have this project here, and this project over there, and we're making investments, but they might connect and they might not. You have to have the big picture, but you also have to start somewhere."

Halicki said people tend to think of public transportation only as it relates to their neighborhood, and the specific projects which will affect them. The aim of the TPB is to get people to think about transportation regionally and convince them a regional system is important.

"But you still," he said, "at the end of the day, have to figure out how to get there. If you take any single investment, like a street car up and down Peachtree, a voter in another area, like Clayton County, could just say, 'What do I care?'"

Halicki said in addition to the local transit issues and tactical suggestions, brought up by the public at the nine open houses, the TPB heard some urgency for transportation and some skepticism for such big and bold changes.

"There's a lot of 'pushback' people have on the questions of 'Can we get there?' and 'How do we get there?' There's a general desire to get there, but the idea of such a dramatic change finds some people sort of cynical," Halicki said.

According to King, the TPB's implementation strategy for the 30-year plan will have to include a "continuous drum beat" on the need for public transportation and some small, but immediate accomplishments as evidence the implementation is underway.

"You've got to give people something while they wait, while we're working on the bigger project," King said. "People have got to maintain the faith until they get their piece."