Proposed Atlanta terminal advancing at DOT

A proposed mass transit terminal in downtown Atlanta got a boost Wednesday.  Department of Transportation officials told the DOT board they intend to officially suggest the project to private developers, and ask for interested companies’ qualifications hopefully by March.

Such a step does not require a vote of the DOT board, said Earl Mahfuz, DOT's director of public-private projects.

The passenger terminal would be located in the “gulch” in downtown Atlanta, near MARTA’s Five Points station.

The department hopes to build the terminal under its program for state projects funded with private investment.  The terminal would be DOT’s second public-private project, after the proposal to build optional toll lanes on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties, Mahfuz said.

"We're excited," said Angie Laurie, vice president for transportation at Central Atlanta Progress, as she addressed a downtown meeting on the terminal project this week.  She noted that a 2002 CAP study on a downtown terminal estimated that it would cost more than $300 million, a figure that would need to be updated for current conditions.

Revenue for the proposed terminal would come from developing offices or residences above or around it.  If DOT or MARTA headquarters were to move in, that might provide some relatively stable revenue even in a bad economy.  The terminal would connect to MARTA, and may have space for light rail, commuter rail, commuter buses and inter-city rail like Amtrak. It may have the ability to handle high-speed rail in the future.

DOT’s search for private dollars comes in the context of a grim economy and a state budget that is hard pressed to fund even the smallest new projects.  Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith on Wednesday presented the DOT budget at the Legislature, and noted that the governor proposes to cut state funding for smaller transit systems statewide, ports, airports and other services by 27 percent.

Most of DOT’s public-private projects are toll roads, but DOT is working on a handful of others, including a proposal to put communications towers on leftover pieces of land purchased by DOT for road projects and a plan to place advertising at rest areas.  DOT has been working on public-private projects for years, but started over last year after a new law changed the program.