North Fulton mayors question county transit expansion plan

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After months of study and dozens of public meetings, a plan to expand transit in Fulton County looked last week like it had won the support of a diverse group of mayors and county leaders.

But at least two north Fulton mayors broke ranks, saying in separate letters that they didn't think enough work had been done to prove that any transit expansion would improve traffic in their areas.

Mayor Mike Bodker in Johns Creek has asked questions about the necessity for transit expansion and the study's methods throughout the process. Mayor Lori Henry in Roswell is newly elected, and participated in her first meeting of mayors and county commissioners last month.

Bodker said he thought the proposed bus rapid transit lines would be of limited use in getting cars off the road, and were intended more to spur more growth in areas where the lines would go. Johns Creek, Roswell and Alpharetta don’t want additional density, Bodker said. (Bodker said Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle had also expressed concerns about the proposal; Belle Isle did not return phone calls seeking comment.)

“What’s really driving this is economic development,” Bodker said of the transit proposal. “I think we need to have a serious discussion of how to solve our traffic woes. We need to build a business case, whether it’s for roads or transit. All of it needs to be justified.”

Liz Hausmann, a Republican Fulton County commissioner who represents parts of north Fulton and has been a proponent of bus rapid transit, rejected the idea that the transit proposal was primarily for economic development in north Fulton — in the south part of the county, it is, she said — and said she thinks county leaders need to present viable options to residents that will help with traffic relief.

“It’s our job to come to you with some sort of solution,” she said. “What we’ve done is identify where the need is.”

Bodker’s letter was sent as a statement from a city communications officer, while Henry’s was an email to Hausmann, Bodker, Belle Isle, three north Fulton legislators and a reporter. Hausmann’s response included more north Fulton mayors, county commissioners and members of staff.

Two north Fulton County mayors have questioned a plan to expand transit in the region. (DAVID BARNES / AJC FILE PHOTO)

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Both mayors' letters stated reservations about a transit proposal that would raise an estimated $4.9 billion by taxing residents an additional half penny for 40 years.

Under that plan, bus rapid transit lines would be built on Ga. 400, Holcomb Bridge Road, U.S. 29 and South Fulton Parkway. Bodker and Belle Isle have been vocal about their concerns with the process, and Bodker said Monday that he did not think the county's transit study had been "intellectually honest." He said the density in north Fulton would not support bus rapid transit lines

Bodker said the county’s study did not take into consideration whether people would actually use any expanded transit.

In his letter, Bodker said he was concerned that the county could be faced with having made a costly mistake that could not be easily corrected if it turns out transit is the wrong strategy. Henry, in Roswell, said in her letter that she does not believe bus rapid transit is "in the best interest" of Roswell.

“Locating bus rapid transit stations in Roswell will create additional traffic congestion on Roswell roads,” she wrote. “Also, the additional right-of-way needed for bus rapid transit on Holcomb Bridge is non-existent, and sustainable impacts and costs to property and business along Holcomb Bridge are unknown.”

She also wrote that other metro Atlanta counties should be required to pay for any expansion. Through a spokesperson, Henry said Monday that she had no additional comment on her letter.

State Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, was copied on Henry’s letter and on Hausmann’s. Albers, like the two mayors, said he would like to see more discussion of autonomous vehicles, which he said could change the calculus for public transportation. Hausmann, in her letter, said she did not know how long it would take before those options would be viable.

Albers said he was excited about the ongoing conversation.

“There’s a lot of passion,” he said. “Everybody wants to find the right solution.”


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