This weekend, Setzler emailed his proposal to county chairman Tim Lee and Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews, who sit on the 21-member roundtable charged with designing the transportation project list for the 10-year sales tax referendum next July.
Lee said he appreciates Setzler’s input, however, at first blush, “I don’t think it’s been vetted properly to allow it to be incorporated, but I have to meet with staff to find out if that’s accurate. No one’s ever heard of these concepts prior to him presenting it to us.”
Mathews said any project the roundtable considers must come from Georgia Department of Transportation Planning Director Todd Long’s unconstrained list.
Setzler uses project ID numbers from Long’s list. For instance, he takes the proposed $856.5 million earmarked for Midtown-to-Cumberland rail and allocates $106.5 million for improvements to the Western & Atlantic Rail line owned by the state, to support daily passenger service from Cartersville to Atlanta.
“So he’s redefining the projects and reusing the project numbers?” Mathews asked. “I can’t make a decision based on that until Todd Long says he can do that if he wants to.”
Setzler said spending $106.5 million on improvements to the Western & Atlantic rail line for passenger use instead of building light rail from Cumberland to Midtown makes use of a resource Cobb already has.
“What this money does is it provides enhancements that even with the increased freight volume we’re going to see in the next 20 to 30 years would make this a long-term viable alternative,” he said.
Setzler divides up the rest of the Cumberland-to-Midtown rail earmark by allocating $167 million for a 6.2-mile super-arterial corridor on Windy Hill road from Austell Road to I-75. A super-arterial takes out the stoplights to allow the road to become an expressway.
"The contention will come up, ‘oh, we need to use projects on the unconstrained list,'" Setzler said. “Well, if you look at the unconstrained list, it has a major corridor improvement for Windy Hill Road from Austell Road all the way to Cobb Parkway and the interstate.”
The argument, Setzler said, boils down to spending funds on right-of-way to add more lanes even though drivers will still be stopped by red lights or using funds on grade separation and eliminating stoplights altogether to allow for a free running expressway.
“I contend that the free running expressway concept moves passengers more effectively than adding more lanes and still dying in stop lights,” he said.
Setzler also earmarked $171.27 million for a 7.2 mile super-arterial corridor on Cobb Parkway from Cumberland Parkway to North Marietta Parkway; $229.5 million for a 6.3 mile super-arterial on Cobb Parkway from North Marietta Parkway to Kennesaw-Due West Road, along with intersection improvements to Bartow County; $120 million on the I-75 interchange at Windy Hill Road; and $72 million on expanding Roswell Road from Bridgegate Drive to Timber Ridge Road.
“This proposal reallocates $750 million from the light rail concept at Cumberland Mall to fund the kind of real traffic relief Cobb County has been waiting for,” Setzler said. “It also funds improvements to Cobb’s existing rail lines to bring passenger rail service to our historic downtowns in a financially responsible way.”
Mathews said he expects to bring some amendments for consideration by the roundtable’s self-imposed Oct. 6 deadline. But he isn’t yet ready to say what they are. None of those amendments to date include killing off the Cumberland-to-Midtown rail proposal, though, he said.
“I don’t think there are any scenarios that include killing it off,” Mathews said. “I’m not willing to kill any transit project in Cobb at this point.”
The Cumberland-to-Midtown rail line has some influential supporters, among them Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who also sits on the roundtable.
“I think it’s important because it links Cobb in an efficient way to a significant employment sector,” Reed told the Journal on Friday. “A number of people choose to make their homes in Cobb, which is a wonderful part of the state, but many of those people, I would say that more than 45 percent of those people (work) somewhere else other than where they live, and to the extent that they can travel comfortably, get on a train and come into the heart of the city, and then leave in a comfortable efficient way, I think that will allow them to spend more time with their families, more time in Cobb County, and get out of their vehicles, so I’m supportive of the line.”
Reed said he didn’t know why the rail proposal was controversial in Cobb, with some saying they don’t want MARTA to enter the county.
“I think first of all there’s a misnomer to say you’re going to have MARTA in Cobb,” Reed said. “It’s a line. So the decision about who is going to operate the line has not been made, certainly to my knowledge. But you know, I leave folks in local politics to their local politics. … I think that at the end of the day it will be one of those things that might have some give and take right now, but in 10 years, 20 years and 30 years, I think people will see that it’s the right decision.”
Reed said the goal is to get to Town Center, although funding for that leg of the line is not included in the 10-year tax.
“The ultimate goal, really, is to link the most far reaches of Cobb to the employment sectors. I think it’s going to be important that people that are able to continue to live where they want and to get to work and to get back home, so I think it actually strengthens Cobb quite a bit. But of course I don’t live in Cobb, so I’m just respecting the local politics. As an outsider, I believe that the line is a good line with the belief that at the end of the day it’s going to end at Town Center. But you’ve got to get this first part built so you can have continued investment, so I think that it’s the right thing to do.”
Like Mathews, Reed is convinced federal funding will come through to pay for the second leg of the line from Cumberland to Acworth.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ll get it,” Reed said. “I have no doubt that we’ll get the line built to Town Center. That’s why I supported the project.”
Mathews said passage of the TSPLOST to relieve traffic congestion is critical to the region’s future.
“It’s really, really needed in the region. It’s a cryin’ shame that it’s going through the process right now that it’s going through,” Mathews said. “It’s very frustrating to have our legislators who voted for it, specifically Ed who voted for it, to be the one out championing being against it.”