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Cobb could save billion on buses by dodging BRT

Posted by on April 12, 2013
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By Ron Sifen

Does Cobb County need to figure out how to spend $1 billion? Or should Cobb opt for a $2 million alternative, and save taxpayers the other $998 million?  When government spends money, taxpayers need to ask some questions.

• What is this expenditure intended to accomplish?

• How much is this going to cost?

• Is this an appropriate allocation of our tax dollars?

• Are taxpayers getting a good (or reasonable) value for our money?

Cobb County is currently studying a $1 billion transit proposal, which includes:

• Express buses operating in the approved-and-soon-to-be-built I-75 / I-575 managed lanes,

• Bus Rapid Transit operating in its own “barrier-separated” special lanes in the middle of Cobb Parkway, and

• 12 intersection grade separations.

Cobb already has successful bus service on Cobb Parkway. Do we need to improve this service? Perhaps. Do we need a billion dollar enhancement to our transit service on Cobb Parkway?

According to the AA (the Alternatives Analysis study), BRT will only cost $1 billion to build, as opposed to as much as $4 billion for light rail. And the AA exposes that BRT would only cost $6 million annually to operate and maintain, vs. up to $30 million annually for light rail. However, BRT is far more expensive than just increasing the frequency of existing buses.

If the only objective of this transit project were to improve transit service along Cobb Parkway, we could invest $2 million into doubling the frequency of the existing buses, and also running some additional buses that only stop at the major stops that have been identified along the BRT route. This $2 million investment would be a major upgrade from a transportation perspective, and would save taxpayers the remaining $998 million. It would also save millions in future annual operating and maintenance costs.

The other objective of the billion dollar transit proposal is to incentivize the redevelopment of private property. Cobb County has a Land Use Plan. Cobb is free to have its Land Use Plan allow high density mixed use development along this corridor. However, I continue to disagree with spending $1 billion of taxpayers’ tax dollars to incentivize the redevelopment of private property. I do not think this is an appropriate use of our tax dollars.

Future annual operating and maintenance costs for BRT would be much higher than just adding additional buses on Cobb Parkway.

• Will the extra millions of dollars for future operating and maintenance costs consume future funding that Cobb might have otherwise been able to use for other transportation needs elsewhere in Cobb?

• Will this misallocation of our financial resources take funding away from other needed services?

• Will this enhancement be so expensive to build and operate and maintain, that it will necessitate future tax increases?

One could also ask who are the special interests who would benefit / profit from the billion dollar plan, vs. a $2 million alternative that would do nothing more than to improve the existing transit service?

The BRT would operate in “barrier-separated” dedicated lanes, which would be built in the middle of Cobb Parkway. These barriers will block left turns into and out of existing businesses. This may adversely impact these businesses.

A large portion of the billion dollars will be spent on the “intersection grade separations.” (Grade separations means one crossing over the other.)

If these intersection grade separations were separating all north-south vehicular traffic from all east-west vehicular traffic, it would have had a huge benefit for reducing traffic congestion for everybody. However, these grade separations will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build bridges for the buses to cross over these intersections.

Downtown city streets are designed to accommodate relatively slow-moving traffic, while also accommodating large amounts of pedestrian traffic. Cobb Parkway is not a city street. It is a major highway designed to allow fast-moving vehicular traffic to move longer distances. Is it realistic to try to convert the functionality of Cobb Parkway into the equivalent of a downtown city street?

BRT would operate entirely in the middle of Cobb Parkway. In order to get to the bus, every transit rider will have to cross to the middle of Cobb Parkway. And when the rider reaches their destination, they will again have to cross Cobb Parkway. Cobb promises to assure that this can be done safely. Can it be done safely, and conveniently, and at a reasonable cost, and not impede traffic flow on this major highway?

This project will not help to alleviate traffic congestion. Annual operating and maintenance costs will cost millions more than just increasing the frequency of the existing bus service. The existing bus service on Cobb Parkway could be significantly enhanced for $2 million, and therefore save taxpayers the other $998 million.

Does the billion dollar plan give taxpayers good value for our money?


Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCCC.  All articles are posted with the author’s permission.

Article Printed in the Marietta Daily Journal April 11, 2013.

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