Since GDOT and MARTA’s release of new plans to build two express lanes in each direction up Ga. 400 with bus rapid transit stops along the way, I’ve heard cries from folks as to why they are not extending heavy rail instead. I can’t help but think that this conversation is so, like, five years ago.
Back then, there was a push from high-level officials in the North Fulton area to extend MARTA rail up to Windward Parkway. They even had a funding mechanism in place for the more than $5 billion project. The problem was that when it was brought up, the only people that rallied were those who opposed it. And I can tell you as someone who once covered local politics as a reporter, and as a casual observer over the last 20 years, the only time people tend to rally is when they are opposed to something. You never really see folks rally for something these days. I guess it’s easier to say no to something in exchange for some magical solution than it is to stand up for something.
Four or five years ago, we had a way to extend rail and vocal voters, and then their elected officials said no.
I’m not exactly sure that this is the way this express lane idea went down, but from what it looks like, it seems that bus rapid transit is the “next best thing” to the rail-expansion idea.
The plan calls for two express lanes to be built in each direction between the North Springs MARTA station and McGinnis Ferry Road. Then for one express lane in each direction north from there to McFarland Parkway. The lanes would run mostly between the current north/south lanes with bus rapid transit stops at North Springs MARTA, Holcomb Bridge Road, North Point Mall, Old Milton Parkway and Windward Parkway.
If you want more detail, you can go to http://www.dot.ga.gov/DS/GEL/SR400.
There is a great video of what it will look like. The toll lanes would run independent of the other lanes with some access points to merge back into the standard lanes. You would need a Peach Pass to drive in the new lanes and it would cost more during peak traffic times to help ensure that traffic keeps moving. In some areas, the lanes would run on a ramp, similar to how they are on I-75 through Cobb County.
I had State Sen. Brandon Beach on my radio podcast last week. He has chaired the Senate’s Transportation Committee for the last couple of years and was excited about bus rapid transit.
“This is going to be high-end. The buses will be nice – they’ll have wifi and it will be a very nice experience for the rider,” he said.
The benefit of bus rapid transit is that there isn’t as much of an up-front cost to get it running as there is with heavy rail. So if you cannot have heavy rail, it’s the next best thing.
Most people who I’ve talked to who have seen these plans, or heard about it, are thrilled that something is happening. But there are some vocal people who still want heavy rail and have no interest in seeing any more asphalt laid down. The problem is that it took years for discussion to finally brew up in North Fulton to the point where anyone with any significance would talk openly about heavy rail expansion. Even if folks would have come together to support heavy rail expansion four years ago, it still would have been another 10 years or so before we would have been able to ride on it.
So if folks want to start the MARTA heavy rail discussion again, they are talking about a solution that wouldn’t come to fruition until just before 2030. The express lane/bus rapid transit plan already has a significant amount of funding in place through a $100 million bond and a $184 million-grant. MARTA and GDOT are predicting that riders will be riding on these express lanes by 2025.
Geoff Smith is a mortgage banker with Assurance Financial focusing on residential home loans for refinances and home purchases.
*The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of Assurance Financial Group