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Regional transportation list undergoes new cuts

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Commuter rail does not appear to be coming to the Southern Crescent, via next year's regional transportation special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) vote, a new version of the list of proposed projects shows.

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) released an updated list of 217 projects, reflecting cuts that took the list's value from $22.9 billion, down to $12.2 billion. The list includes projects for Clayton, Henry, Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett and Rockdale counties, as well as the City of Atlanta, and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA).

The list was cut down from its previous size by a group of staffers from the ARC, Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA), and county transportation and planning departments from each of the 10 participating counties and the City of Atlanta, according to ARC Spokesman Jim Jaquish.

He said a roundtable made up of each county's commission chairman and one city mayor from each county will now have to decide what to do with the list next, and that may include rejecting some, or all, of the latest cuts.

"The list is, by no means, final," Jaquish said. "This is just a first draft. The roundtable could end up pulling [additional] projects off the list, or saying [to the staffers who just made cuts] 'Go cut it in half again,' or [saying] 'Go start all over again' [from scratch]."

The local share of the reduced list is $504 million for Clayton County (down from the $1.1 billion in projects the county asked for), and $287.7 million for Henry County (down from the $430 million the county asked for). The total share for the two counties is $782.8 million, for 20 projects (10 for each county).

The highest profile cut in the Clayton and Henry area is the elimination of a $463.6 million Atlanta-to-Griffin commuter rail project. Clayton County requested it, but the rail line would have begun in Atlanta, cut through the middle of Clayton County, before going into southwest Henry County, and heading into Griffin.

It was part of a proposed Atlanta-to-Macon commuter rail line that mass transit advocates have been trying for years to get built.

The Atlanta-to-Griffin rail line was not alone in being cut. Commuter rail projects in the Atlanta suburbs did not fair well, with another line, that would have gone from Doraville to Lawrenceville, also being cut, while a line that would have connected Kennesaw with midtown Atlanta was cut in half, so it now ends near Smyrna and Vinings.

Jaquish said ARC officials, who could explain why the commuter rail cuts were made, were not available for comment on Thursday. Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, and Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis, both members of the ARC's roundtable, could not be reached, either.

Much of what has been kept for Clayton and Henry counties amount to several road-widening projects, interchange improvements at Interstate 75 and Bill Gardner Parkway in Henry County, and a replacement bridge on Valley Hill Road, between Jonesboro and Riverdale, at the Flint River.

There are still some high-profile projects still on the table for both counties, though. In Clayton County, those include: Local bus service ($100 million); converting Tara Boulevard, form Interstate 75 to Fayetteville Road, into a "Super Arterial" roadway ($254.2 million), and building a new south Jonesboro connector road that would stretch from Tara Boulevard, to Lake Jodeco Road ($8 million).

In Henry County, a $17.2 million western parallel connector road, which would stretch from Hudson Bridge Road, to Jonesboro Road, is still on the list of proposed projects.

The 20 projects in Clayton and Henry counties, combined, amount to only 6.4 percent of the $12.2 billion price tag for the current, cut-down list.

Many of the 217 projects on the latest list -- 126 to be exact -- specifically belong to Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties, and the City of Atlanta. Fayette County has 13 projects on the list, followed by Douglas county (10 projects), Cherokee County (nine projects) and Rockdale County (five projects). There are 10 MARTA projects on the list, and 24 region-wide projects.

"The job of the executive committee and the roundtable is to determine the right blend of projects that will provide options to improve our commutes, get residents home to their families faster, and provide and retain jobs for our region," said Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, the chairman of the ARC roundtable, and its executive committee.

"We are not just building a list of transportation projects, we are building the future direction of our region."

The list must be reduced to $6.1 billion by Oct. 15, and that finalized list will be what goes before voters during a July 30, 2012 referendum vote, according to an ARC news release.