Fulton County residents want equitable transit plan in north and south

Expanded heavy rail was one proposal for a transit expansion plan in the works in Fulton County. AJC FILE PHOTO

Expanded heavy rail was one proposal for a transit expansion plan in the works in Fulton County. AJC FILE PHOTO

As much as they were interested in where any proposed Fulton County transit expansions would go, residents also wanted to know what good they would do.

Would adding bus rapid transit bring more jobs? Would it help decrease the amount of traffic? And were county leaders thinking through the proposals, to make sure they would be putting transit in places it would be used?

One woman who attended a meeting in South Fulton Monday wanted to make sure any expansion worked better than the little-used Atlanta street car. Others asked for assurances that expansion would be shared equally, north and south.

In north Fulton, residents wanted to make sure that any transportation improvements would equate to congestion relief, said Eric Bosman, an associate with Kimley Horn who conducted the transit study on Fulton County’s behalf. And in the south part of the county, they wanted to know that transit expansion would be used for economic development.

Bosman and others were at a series of meetings this month to answer residents' questions about the county's proposals. But they wanted something in return: feedback on a range of possible transit options that could bring everything from a new type of public transportation to Georgia — bus rapid transit — to an expansion of MARTA's heavy rail in the north part of the county.

The final meeting will be held Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. at the College Park City Hall at 3667 Main Street. Residents who can't make the meeting can fill out a survey online at http://www.fultoncountyga.gov/tmp-home. It will be live through Wednesday.

Rodney Henderson, who lives in South Fulton, said he thinks bus rapid transit could pave the way for more economic development, as well as fulfill a need for better connectivity.

“We definitely need increased transportation in this area,” Henderson said.

Like others, Henderson wanted to make sure south Fulton wasn’t forgotten while north Fulton got most of the transit dollars. Alfred Jones, who also lives in South Fulton, said it was important to him that any transit solutions be equitable. It’s a word that came up a lot from residents.

“The problem we have is that there is a big divide,” Jones said. “They have rail in the north. We have nothing in the south.”

Jones said Fulton County leaders were visionaries for the steps that they’re taking to prepare for transit expansion. He said if it happens across the county, the whole county will win.

At the meeting Monday night, residents saw several options for expanding transit in the metro area.

A $16 billion plan would offer MARTA rail extensions, including up Ga. 400 from the North Springs station to Holcomb Bridge Road, from the Hamilton Holmes MARTA station west along I-20 and south into Clayton County. It would also have light rail on the top end of I-285, bus rapid transit lines in the north and south of the county and arterial rapid transit lines that would allow more connections between stations.

Other options that are more affordable — and therefore more likely — cost far less.

Fulton County could bring in $2.4 billion over 40 years with a quarter penny sales tax and construct three bus rapid transit lines. With a half-penny tax, the county could raise $4.9 billion to pay for the northern MARTA extension and some bus rapid transit.

Used another way, that $4.9 billion could pay for bus rapid transit lines up Ga. 400 to Old Milton Parkway, and along Holcomb Bridge Road to the north and along South Fulton Parkway to Ga. 92 and on U.S. 29 in the south. It could also cover the cost of arterial rapid transit lines, which use stations like bus rapid transit, but don’t have their own lanes. Arterial rapid transit lines are proposed for Roswell Road, Old Milton Parkway, Ga. 141, Fulton Industrial Boulevard and Camp Creek Parkway.

With even more money, both the MARTA extension and the other improvements could be a possibility, too.

Gameli Appiah, who lives in South Fulton, would have preferred to see light rail in his area to help attract businesses. But he thinks bus rapid transit could work, too.

Michel Turpeau, who lives in Atlanta, said with so much of south Fulton undeveloped, bringing better transit could be a boon for jobs. He thinks presentations like the one he attended can help residents understand that there’s more value to public transportation than just how people get around.

“It’s a very good first step,” he said of the county’s proposals. “It’s a foot race, so let’s run.”