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Rail proponents continuing local efforts

Photo by Curt Yeomans
The Norfolk Southern rail line, which cuts through Clayton and Henry counties, could someday be used for an Atlanta-to-Griffin commuter rail route.

Photo by Curt Yeomans The Norfolk Southern rail line, which cuts through Clayton and Henry counties, could someday be used for an Atlanta-to-Griffin commuter rail route.

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Commuter-rail advocates are working against the clock, in a push to bring their long-awaited dream to the Southside.

They are attempting to secure an Atlanta-Griffin rail line, as part of the Transportation Investment Act of 2010. The rail line is one of numerous transportation projects in the region, which are under consideration by the Atlanta Regional Commission's Roundtable Executive Committee.

Henry County Chamber of Commerce President Kay Pippin has been an outspoken advocate of bringing the rail line to the Southside. She said a vote on a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST), which would fund transportation projects in the region "will mark a historic event for all of metro Atlanta."

Still, she remained critical of what she sees as a tendency to overlook the Southern Crescent, when it comes to transit projects for the area.

"Our Chamber supports the road projects slated for Henry County in the semi-constrained projects list, but we believe Atlanta's southern arc has been ignored when it comes to transit investments," Pippin said. "As the projects list stands today, over $3 billion is slated for transit, including several rail projects; but with the exception of buses for Clayton County, not a dime will be spent on transit south of I-20. You cannot call it a regional transportation plan, if half of the region is left out of the transit investment."

She added that the Atlanta-Griffin commuter-rail line is the only rail project in the region which has already been approved for federal funding. The proposed line, Pippin said, would help to ensure future economic prosperity for the area.

"It is the only rail project in metro Atlanta that can be delivered within the 10-year lifespan of the T-SPLOST, and development of this line will, by far, exceed all other projects when it comes to economic development and impact," Pippin said. "We need to find the will and the political clout to make this happen, while it is within our grasp."

Gordon Kenna, chief executive officer of Georgians for Passenger Rail, said ARC staff members have overblown cost estimates for transportation projects in the region.

"We want to make sure these projects are accurately and fairly costed," Kenna said. "The criteria says cost, deliverability and performance are the three main considerations, and that cost has to be calculated in such a way to ensure that the project is delivered. As a result, [ARC staff] used very conservative estimates. They put a pretty high price on these things, to ensure they can be built and delivered."

Kenna added that the Atlanta-Griffin rail line has been studied for 10 years, with cost estimates from the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) consistently totaling $400-500 million.

"It may end up going half the distance, but end up costing twice as much," he said. "We would like an opportunity to revisit those cost numbers with GRTA, and GRTA has agreed to meet with us to look at that. This process goes on until the final list is published on the 15th of October."

The Roundtable's executive committee was unable to reach a recommended project list on Thursday. They are expected to reconvene, Monday, at 1 p.m., to adopt a final list, according to Terry D. Lawler, executive director for the Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta.

Lawler is among those keeping a close eye on the executive committee's talks regarding the proposed Atlanta-Griffin rail line.

"They presently have $6.56 billion in projects, and need to reduce that to $6.14 billion by Monday," Lawler said. "The [committee] will make a recommended project list to the total roundtable of $6.1 billion in transportation projects and the roundtable can accept, amend or fail to adopt the list. This task must be accomplished by Oct. 15."