By Joel Hall
The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority has begun clearing land for a new Xpress bus park-and-ride lot in Jonesboro.
The 8.5-acre parking lot, scheduled to open by the end of this year, will accommodate local commuters riding the agency's buses to and from Atlanta, and free up parking at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, which is presently a stop along two Xpress bus routes.
William Mecke, communications director for GRTA, said the land next to the Mrs. Winner's and Arby's restaurant at 8490 Tara Boulevard, was purchased by the agency in June of last year. As Xpress usage has increased at the Justice Center, GRTA saw an opportunity to create a new station with a ticket center, a bus bay, and better signage, he said.
"It was always our plan to operate at the Justice Center for a few years until we could find a better location," Mecke said. "Clayton County has been great in hosting us. As the uses there grow, it was appropriate that we move up the street."
Mecke said the land for the new park-and-ride lot was purchased for approximately $1.9 million and that it will cost GRTA a little over $2.4 million to build the new lot. He said once it opens, the lot will have the capacity to park 592 cars.
According to Mecke, GRTA's current plans are to reroute its route 440 bus to the new center once it opens. The 440 route starts at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and makes a stop at the Justice Center prior to heading to downtown Atlanta. Until further notice, GRTA plans to continue to route its 441 bus to the Justice Center, which travels from the Justice Center to Atlanta's Midtown, he said.
The new park-and-ride lot "will be different from the Justice Center in that there will be a bus bay there, a couple of places for the bus to stop, and a ticket center," said Mecke. Plans for the new lot also include new signage, which will display when the next scheduled bus is coming, a feature unavailable at the Justice Center, he said.
Prior to GRTA purchasing the property for the park-and-ride lot, the land was an expanse of kudzu, according to Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox. He noted that while the lot will be an improvement to the property, the city will no longer be able to earn tax revenue on the land because it is now owned by the state.
"It's a double-edged sword," Maddox said. "The state is tax exempt. It removed roughly 8 acres of property off the Jonesboro tax roll." However, "the way the economy is, nobody is building anything right now. Hopefully we can generate enough business to offset that."
The property the park-and-ride lot is being built on is within close proximity to several restaurants and convenience stores, including a combination Mrs. Winner's and Arby's restaurant, a Long John Silver's, a Wendy's, a Burger King, a CVS/pharmacy, a Domino's Pizza, the Sports Cafe, and a Golden Corral.
Tye Edwards is the store manager of the combination Mrs. Winner's/Arby's in Jonesboro, which is next door to the park-and-ride lot property. He said restaurant operators are excited about the possibility of added business and may adjust the restaurant's hours, once the lot opens, to accommodate early-morning commuters in the mood for breakfast.
"We're praying for it ... everybody is excited and waiting for it to be built," Edwards said. "Right now, we're opening at 6 a.m., but once they open, we might start opening at 5 a.m. I think it's going to be a good deal for us."
Despite a loss of property tax revenue, Mecke said he believes Jonesboro will stand to profit from additional sales taxes because of the park-and-ride lot.
"At Discover Mills mall, we did a survey and found that our riders were going to the mall and spending a good deal of money there," Mecke said. "When the state buys a piece of land, there is certainly an impact. Rather than a kudzu-covered lot, we are putting in a quality bus station. While it won't be generating tax dollars, it will still be an asset to the community."