Southside leaders seek to revive commuter rail

Henry County Chamber of Commerce President Kay Pippin reacted with jubilation to the news a commuter-rail line is still on life support on the Southside of Atlanta.

Pippin said a decision leaders in Clayton County to continue pursuing the project, could help to turn the tide in favor of transportation projects locally.

"That is fantastic!" Pippin exclaimed. "This ought to cause every voter on the Southside to rise up in arms and say ‘no more.' It is time for a major infrastructure investment to be made on the Southside. If there were an ocean on the north side of Atlanta, the city would tip over, all that side would fall in."

Pippin's comments came on the heels of a unanimous vote members of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners ,Tuesday, to ask members of an Atlanta Regional Commission executive committee to consider putting an Atlanta-to-Griffin commuter rail line back on a projects list for next year's regional transportation tax vote.

Voters in a 10-county metro Atlanta transportation region, which includes Clayton and Henry counties, will vote next year on approval of a one-cent special transportation sales tax. The Atlanta Regional Commission's roundtable is tasked with compiling a $6.1 billion project list for the SPLOST vote.

Pippin, a staunch proponent of the rail line, said the project could go a long way in solving "the dilemma of the two Georgias" in this state.

"It not only cuts across the southern portion of the metro region, but it [also] connects to other regions of the state," she said.

Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis said any project which was cut is eligible to be reconsidered until Oct. 15, when the ARC is expected to release a final list of transportation projects for the region.

"Clayton's project, as well as several others, was added back to the list," she said. "Nothing is really off the table. Each metro county is allowed to submit their priorities, and is not dependent upon another county's support to do that."

Mathis added that her board is working to assure Henry projects make the list.

Locust Grove Mayor Lorene Lindsey is a member of the roundtable, and a supporter of the rail project. She said she has been inundated, in recent days, with e-mails from individuals in favor of the endeavor.

Lindsey said a 21-member executive team is expected to be ready to submit a project list to the full roundtable Aug. 15. "I'm for it, so I don't have a problem with it, if it's put on the list the executive team," Lindsey said.

Staff members at the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), last month, recommended cutting the $463.6 million commuter-rail project from a list of proposed transportation endeavors, for the metropolitan Atlanta region.

The rail line, which Clayton commissioners approved as one of their requests for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax list earlier this year, was removed from consideration amid concerns about costs and the length of time needed to complete it.

The proposed line would begin in Atlanta, go down the middle of Clayton County and into southwest Henry County, before heading into Griffin. It is part of a proposed Atlanta-to-Macon commuter rail line, which has been stuck in the planning stages for several years, because of funding issues.

Until the ARC's Oct. 15, deadline comes, Pippin said, the commuter-rail project for the Southside is "a moving target."

"Every time they meet, they are refining that list," she said. "We've overweighted Northside with economic investment. We're good people. We've got plenty of water, land, leadership, and workers, and it's time to recognize there is life on the Southside of the capital."

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said the project was later put on the executive committee's "for further discussion" list one of its members, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

"It was important to me to have our board speak, so that they [the ARC] could know that the sponsors of this project are fully behind it," said Bell, a longtime commuter rail proponent and ARC roundtable member. "My effort here is to keep it alive, to give the full roundtable the opportunity to continue discussion on it until such time as we approve the final list."

— Staff writer Curt Yeomans contributed to this article.