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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cobb ponders scaling back proposed light-rail as DeKalb and Clayton push for more transit

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2011 at 6:09 PM

Elected officials made clear today that they'll push for changes to a list of road and transit projects that could receive funding from a 1-cent sales tax voters will decide next year.

During the two-hour meeting at the Atlanta Regional Commission's downtown offices, members of the so-called "roundtable" gave a heads-up about which projects they think should receive a bigger cut of the $6.1 billion the tax would generate if approved next year by voters. A quick round-up:

• Most surprising: Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee said he's looking to shave nearly $300 million earmarked for a light-rail line between Midtown and the Cumberland area to instead be spent on road improvements and "premium bus service" connecting Acworth and Kennesaw to Midtown. The light-rail project, which would ultimately stretch to Acworth, has recently earned the ire of Tea Party activists and some anti-transit folks. He said he still loves the choo-choos, however: "I believe in my heart that transit is right for Cobb County if we're going to move forward as a region."

• DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, with the support of the DeKalb County Commission, wants a proposed MARTA project along I-20 — which is already slated to receive approximately $225 million — to snag an additional $297 million. Doing so would help build a rail line — which he says scores well on ridership studies — rather than a bus route and park-and-ride lots. "If you look at objective criteria, that project should be included," he said.

• The long-planned commuter rail line between Atlanta and Griffin is still very much alive. As Dave Williams reported yesterday, Clayton County Chairman Eldrin Bell has proposed cuts to several projects, including the Cobb County light-rail project and the Clifton Corridor MARTA line, to free up cash for passenger rail service. He plans to discuss the proposal with roundtable members and finalize the details by Friday. "We're excited about this project but there have been questions about putting skin in the game," Bell said. "And we're prepared to put some skin in the game." It's important to note that the Atlanta to Griffin leg is just one segment of a 103-mile route to Macon. Other "regional roundtables" along the line are considering the project.

To see a list of the proposed amendments to the project list, point your browsers to hereabouts. (Lee and Ellis have yet to submit their proposals.) We've sent Mayor Kasim Reed a line asking what he thinks about the possible cut to the Atlanta-Cumberland light-rail line. We'll update when we hear word.

UPDATE, 9/29/11, 10:59 a.m.: Mayor Kasim Reed's spokesman sent word last night that Reed "respects the decision of Cobb's leadership."

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