Discussion of the future of transportation in the metro Atlanta region brought opposition to the idea of light rail in Rockdale County from attendees at the South Rockdale Civic Association meeting Tuesday night.
Rockdale County Commission Chairman and CEO Richard Oden and Mike Houchard, of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) Citizens Oversight Committee, spoke to a crowd of about 40 attendees about road repair and maintenance and public transit, such as that outlined in the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Concept 3 plan – a long-range transit vision.
In that visioning plan, which was drawn up by ARC in 2008, an express regional rail route would run from Madison to the other side of Atlanta, with stops including Conyers and Sigman Road. Sigman Road would also be the end station of a light-rail transit route that would run through south DeKalb into the Five Points station.
Having multiple forms of transportation is one of the key factors to economic development, said Oden. “We’re talking about what’s going to drive development. We know statistically, where transit comes, where multi-modal transportation, so does jobs,” he said.
Resident Randy James, who said he’s ridden rapid transit lines in Europe and the US, questioned whether the rail would be used in Rockdale. “Most of the people I talk to don’t feel it’s safe to ride the MARTA rail now… every time I ride in Atlanta, I tell myself, ‘Why did I do this?’”
He pointed out much money would have to be spent preparing existing rail lines to be passenger-quality for a regional express rail. “So we’re talking about billions of dollars for the taxpayer to spend. And then we’ve got a mode of transportation most of us here don’t think is safe.”
Another attendee pointed out that Memorial Drive in DeKalb County had both heavy rail (MARTA) and light rail and hadn’t turned out so well economically.
Resident Brian Jenkins said the rail would bring “three passengers… One’s name is crime. The other one’s name is dependence. And the other one is garbage. That’s what MARTA would bring to this county.” He also asked how the Sigman Road station would be funded and manned.
“That’s a federally funded opportunity,” said Oden. “That’s maintained by the agency, not by the county.”
Resident Jim Roppo said he commuted into Atlanta for work for 13 years, with the traffic getting worse and worse each year until he was arriving at work at 6 a.m. just to beat the rush hour. He said he would have used public transit had it been available to him.
“It’s easy to say you don’t like public transportation,” Roppo said. “but if you live here and work in Atlanta, you probably are interested in public transportation. It’s just a nightmare to drive in.”
Oden also described the goal to move road maintenance from SPLOST funds to general funds.
“By 2014, the objective was to have 80 percent of our roads in good repair. Over time, we’ve reduced that,” he said. The goal was to save $1 million over three years to have for a road maintenance program by the time SPLOST collection ended. “Is that realistic? I don’t know. But we’re going to put a plan in place to do that.”