After two hours of debating administrative minutiae, the Georgia Department of Transportation board nearly brought an end to the bitter dispute the state agency and Amtrak started with the City of Atlanta over Beltline tracks near Piedmont Park.
At the end of today's board meeting, Boardmember David Doss of Rome who it should be noted, hasn't always been the biggest advocate for rail projects asked the board to consider withdrawing its stay of abandonment of the "Decatur Belt," a 4.2-mile segment of unused tracks which stretch from Ansley Park to DeKalb Avenue. Those tracks are a vital piece of the Beltline, the 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit proposed to circle Atlanta's core. Amtrak and GDOT say they want the tracks preserved for future commuter rail service into downtown Atlanta.
Doss said he proposed the same motion yesterday at an intermodal committee meeting.
"The idea of commuter rail or high-speed rail going through Piedmont Park makes little sense to me," Doss told boardmembers. He said the two modes are not compatible with plans the city has already made for the property, which it purchased from Gwinnett County developer Wayne Mason last year for more than $66 million.
Suddenly, a booming voice sounded from the ceiling. Boardmember Steve Farrow of Dalton, participating in the meeting via conference call, objected.
"I hate to interrupt," Farrow said. "But it seems like Mr. Doss is about to start talking about ongoing litigation and possible strategy of DOT in litigation. If that's what we're about to embark upon, I would make a motion that we go into executive session."
Things got a little heated. Much back-and-forth dealing with procedural motions and meeting rules followed. Legal counsel got involved. And for those who enjoy witnessing grown men and women follow Roberts Rules, it was a wonderful display.
"I think this is where we get our reputation for being dysfunctional," Doss said. He made his motion again. Boardmember Dana Lemon of McDonough seconded, adding that even if GDOT withdrew its requests for a stay of abandonment, the agency, Amtrak and the city could still negotiate.
Board Vice Chairman Larry Walker of Perry objected to Doss' idea, saying negotiations and discussions between GDOT, Amtrak and the city are ongoing. The federal agency in charge of handling the process has set a March 6 deadline for the parties to hammer out the details, he said. Walker said he thought the board shouldn't interrupt that process.
"Today is Feb. 19," Walker said. "The agreement was parties would be given 30 days. That's the best possible solution. There's no better solution. For us to intervene in this [process] today, I think is a mistake. Let the process work."
So they took a vote. And after counting hands and Farrow, the voice in the ceiling, stressing his "no" vote the motion failed 4-3. Two boardmembers abstained.
And the motion failed. Guess we'll have to wait until March 6.
(Photo by Alan Friedman)
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