5 things the Comprehensive Transportation Plan misses

Last week, Cobb County announced that it had reached the public response portion of the Comprehensive Transportation Plan. If you’re reading this, we encourage you to engage and provide your response in one of three virtual meetings or four in person meetings. You can also take the online survey here (we recommend still going to one of the events if you can).

Here’s the schedule for the meetings:

DayDateTimeCategoryLocationFB Link
TueMay 11th5:00PMVirtualRegisterRSVP
WedMay 12th6:00PMTown HallCobb County Civic CenterRSVP
SatMay 15th9:30AMVirtualRegisterRSVP
WedMay 19th11:30AMVirtualRegisterRSVP
WedMay 19th6:30PMTown HallAustell Public Safety AcademyRSVP
ThuMay 20th6:00PMTown HallLost Mountain ParkRSVP
ThuMay 27th5:30PMTown HallEast Cobb ParkRSVP

So what should you expect to see at one of these events? Well, for one, be prepared to be overwhelmed with lots of great maps and detailed plans. You’ll see a lot of information about multiple types of referenda, whether it’s a half penny or full penny, or whether it’s transit only, transit and roads, transit and mobility, or any other combination. This leads us to our first suggestion…

We need to separate the conversation about transit and road expansion

Look, we’ve spent billions upon billions of dollars on our roads already. We keep building more lanes for little benefit. Combining the increased costs in maintaining the roads, the impact of induced demand negating the benefits of increased capacity, and how horrible road expansion is for land use and our climate, our county has prioritized spending on roads to the neglect of our transit system for far too long.

And now? When we can finally start to talk about expanding our transit in an equitable, impactful way, the county combines the conversation with MORE ROADS rather than focus on improving an under-invested transit system.

You’ll see talk about “splitting” a penny between transit and roads, and we need to be clear in our responses: transit needs to be prioritized and invested in.

Funding estimates are too conservative with no considerations for other revenue sources

We understand the need to include a conservative estimate when considering future funds raised to expand and operate transit, but an optimistic target should also be considered. The current plan calls for minimal sales tax growth, no state transit funding, 30% federal match, and no additional revenue sources. That leads to $8 billion being raised in 30 years on a 1% sales tax.

What happens if the sales tax has greater growth, the state supports a regional transit network, projects have a higher federal match contribution, and other funding sources are established such as Transit Oriented Developments, private-public partnerships, and other opportunities? That could mean up to $12 billion is now available for transit expansion. These estimates should be given in a range showing both low and high-end estimates and the plan should show what’s possible under these circumstances. This would allow the county to consider more ambitious projects.

Not enough regional focus…where’s MARTA?

The vast majority of Cobb’s residents work outside of Cobb and the vast majority of Cobb’s workers live outside of Cobb. The majority of these commutes come from the Southeast (i.e. their entry point into Cobb is Cumberland), but there are other commute corridors across the county. Our transit plan needs to reflect both the movement of people within the county and moving people to and from other urban cores around Atlanta (Dunwoody, Buckhead, Downtown, Midtown).

With that said, the current plan lacks high frequency connections to the rest of the region. In the survey conducted in 2018, the most desired routes were connections between places in Cobb and the ATL airport. A direct route or connection is lacking in these plans (which could be solved by either MARTA expansion into Cobb or BRT along the west wall of 285).

Even more egregious is the lack of any collaboration or partnership with MARTA. Currently, MARTA is the preeminent transit operator in the region and any future plans should consider connecting, or even integrating, with the existing MARTA network. For years, it has been assumed that the county would not support joining MARTA, but that has been shown to not be the case as both the 2018 survey and 2020 primary ballot question showed increasing support for MARTA expanding into Cobb.

All future discussions about transit expansion in Cobb need to take MARTA and other regional transit into consideration.

Dismisses heavy and regional rail too quickly

We know rail can be a touchy subject. Yes, it can be expensive and sometimes when looking at the costs per mile, many people want to dismiss it outright. But to dismiss it this early, and with overly simple, back-of-the-napkin cost assumptions to justify doing so, does the county a disservice.

We’re going to separate the conversation between heavy rail and regional rail and breakdown why both should still be considered at this stage.

First, heavy rail. This would be an expansion of the current MARTA rail network. Think Blue Line extension into South Cobb and a Green Line extension into Smyrna or Cumberland. These would be relatively expensive connections, but would directly connect Cobb County to the rest of the Atlanta region by building off the existing high capacity, high frequency rail service. You could then build a local transit network from these hubs and make regional connections easy for residents trying to find opportunities for work, education, and anything else.

Next is something we don’t currently have in Atlanta: Regional Rail along existing freight corridors. Just imagine a network of rail that connects every downtown area in Cobb County to the region. An improvement on commuter rail, this would ideally be all-day, relatively frequent service that would connect Cobb residents to not just downtown Atlanta (and other points of interest closer to the urban core), but Woodstock, Dallas, Hiram, and Cartersville. This rail network already exists, and yes, it would require negotiations with the rail operators (CSX and Norfolk Southern) but to dismiss this idea this early when Federal priorities are shifting towards regional rail is a disservice.

To conclude, both MARTA rail extension and regional rail should be considered as options and not outright dismissed as they currently are.

Focuses on the Cobb of today, not the Cobb of 2050

Cobb has grown A LOT in the last 30 years, and we’re projected to grow even more in the next 30 years, with some estimates showing ~30% growth in residents. With more and more jobs and opportunities across the region, we will need to improve transit locally and regionally. We’re also running out of land to grow or continue sprawling into.

That means one thing: our growth can only be supported by densification of both residents and workers. To reduce continued congestion and improve our quality of life, we need to manage our growth in a smart, designed way. In discussing what the Cobb of 2050 looks like, we need to integrate our land use and zoning with our transit and mobility plans. Our growth needs to be concentrated in areas that reduce local commutes (i.e. high walkability/bike propensity) while providing transit connections across the region. An efficient, high-capacity regional transit network provides the infrastructure for this concentrated growth to take place (while leaving more suburban areas like West Cobb and East Cobb less dense).

When discussing a transit plan for the next 30 years, we need to discuss how it relates to future land use and zoning policies, and together, how they support smart, sustained growth.

Support more transit in Cobb? Here’s what you can do!

We understand everyone’s ideas or preferences might be a bit different, but our goal is to bring supporters of more transit together and give them a voice in our county. If you want to help, the first thing you can do is take the online survey to provide the county feedback on the plan (tell them you want more transit!;)

Also, please join our supporters list. We’ve got some really great opportunities coming soon for you to join and show your support.

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