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Transit vision gets initial approval

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The Transportation Planning Board has unanimously approved a regional transportation vision called "Concept 3." The vision calls for a region-wide web of public transit options: Bus lines, commuter rail lines and trolley cars.

Cheryl King, TPB director, said the plan, approved by the board last week, should "make transportation a forethought, instead of an afterthought."

A "bold, aspirational vision," according to King, it will give the governments of the region a blueprint for investment and development.

"This is the first time we've had a real blueprint for transit," King said. "We've had a pretty good plan for roads, but we haven't had anything for transit."

Michael Halicki, a consultant for the transit planners, said the approval means the end of Atlanta's long, transit planning standstill.

Capitalizing on increased bus ridership, especially from places like Ga. Highway 138 in Stockbridge, and on general public support for public transit shown by TPB polls, the "Concept 3" plan seeks to transform the political question.

"When I first started working here, the question was, 'Will people in the suburbs ride transit?'" Halicki said. "And we have an answer to that and we know the answer is a resounding, 'yes.' Now the question is, 'How quickly can we get transit in place?'"

King emphasized the urgency -- the feeling that planning should now be replaced by a phase of implementation -- and said, "People want to see some dirt turned."

In fact, though, the plan -- estimated to carry a capital cost of $26.8 billion and an annual operating expense of $1.1 billion -- is still a matter of paperwork and discussion. The TPB is offering the plan up the Atlanta Regional Commission, which could incorporate it in December, into its long-term plans and, eventually, into lists of short-term projects being implemented.

"The desire," Halicki said, "is to try to link up this planning effort with the ARC's other planning efforts."

The TPB was formed by an agreement of the ARC, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, and is made up of representatives of those three agencies, representatives from the Georgia Department of Transportation and from the city of Atlanta and county governments from Henry to Cherokee, Douglas to Rockdale.

The board is set to "sunset" at the end of the year, and was supposed to come up with a regional transportation plan, like the one approved last week.

It will work, the rest of the year, on making recommendations about transportation funding and governance of transit-plan implementation.

King said the TPB is now working on "illustrative implementation plans," showing how the transit system could be created, paid for and operated.s

"We're asking all those questions and trying to come up with scenarios," King said.