If you have been in Atlanta long enough, Doraville may not be what you think about when someone says progressive development. But if you’ve gone by there lately, you know something big is happening.

For years, commuters on I-285’s north side have been forced to stare at a massive, lifeless shell that once produced cars for General Motors. City officials had entertained several ideas for that site. One was rumored to be the new Falcons’ stadium, which some said was spurned because they wanted a biotech campus.

At the time, the idea of a biotech campus in Doraville to me really seemed laughable. I remember thinking that they would have been lucky to get that stadium. But here we are today, watching construction of Assembly.

Assembly is the name of the project that will be what its developers are calling the largest transit-oriented development in Atlanta. The project will cost about $2 billion when completed. To understand the scale and size of this project, know that Avalon’s first phase in Alpharetta sold last year for $500 million.

This project will take about five to eight years to build out and will include more than 10 million square feet of office towers, apartments, stores and restaurants.

The project sits just west of MARTA’s Doraville station and already has a 60,000-square-foot film and television studio up and running. Renderings show mixed-use centers with walkable streets.

The theme for the project has always been that it is a transit-oriented development.

And the latest announcement keeps them in sync with that. The Integral Group, which is developing the site, announced last week that it will implement an autonomous shuttle next year. The shuttle will hold about 12 people and follow a route from Assembly Yards to the Doraville MARTA station in 15-minute intervals.

The announcement comes at a time when some experts and local officials are looking to autonomous vehicles as an alternative to rail expansion.

The shuttles would still need space on the roads to operate, but would reduce operating costs to only gas and maintenance. If they are branded differently and attract new riders, they could reduce the number of cars on the road.

The announcement from Integral also comes on the heels of a bill signed by Gov. Nathan Deal to add more counties to the oversight of MARTA. The bill opens the option of a new sales tax for counties like Gwinnett and Cobb that would dramatically help fund MARTA expansion.

And expansion of its current system is so expensive, that bringing in that kind of funding would be critical.

Costs to expand MARTA’s heavy rail system have been estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Because of that cost, officials are seeking other transit options. MARTA announced plans last week to build 21 miles of light rail through downtown and southwest Atlanta. It also includes expansion of bus rapid transit systems throughout the area.

The traffic we see is a sign of success, and as odd as it sounds, many cities in this country wish they had the problems we have in Atlanta. But that doesn’t make it any easier to drive through the city during rush-hour, nor is it an asset when we try to lure companies like Amazon to move here.

While autonomous bus technology is being used in other cities around the world, the Assembly system would be the first here in Atlanta.

And its ability to serve as a cost-effective alternative to people driving in cars will be watched by many local officials.


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.

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