Transit for Cobb

The Vision


The following should all be read with a rather large grain of salt, as any final plan may very well look quite different. The aspects of the vision are more there to show what is possible, and what Cobb could have, instead of saying what it will have.

Cobb county is a large and diverse place, requiring a wide range of solutions to its problems. More so now than ever, a full suite of transportation technologies are available to us here in the metro, ranging from Commuter Rail and Express Buses to Community Circulators and Streetcars, which can be implemented as needed for a comprehensive approach to transit. The vision for Cobb is not only that of increasing mobility within the county itself, but also increasing mobility to some of the region's largest employment centers by taking full advantage of these technologies.

This vision would offer a backbone of Heavy Rail Transit and branches of Commuter Rail Transit from the core of Atlanta, over which a web of Bus Rapid Transit, Arterial Rapid Transit, Frequent Buses, Local Buses, Circulators, and Express Buses would be laid, to fill in service gaps as well as reach employment centers not well accessible by rail.


Rail Service - Heavy Rail Transit (HRT)

Heavy Rail Transit, from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, through Downtown and Midtown Atlanta, and running deep into Cobb County, would act as the county's high-capacity backbone. It would serve locals' needs as well as commuters' along the congested I-75 / Cobb Pkwy corridor.

MARTA was originally planned to run heavy rail into Cobb, though the routing for doing so has changed through the iterations. At first, there was to be a line extending north from the present day Green Line, all the way to Marietta. That plan shifted to a Northwest line from the present day Red and Gold Lines just a few stops to the North West, to Northside Drive. In the 1970s, tunnel provisions were built just north of the Arts Center station on the Red and Gold Lines to prepare for a future extension of rail.

Unfortunately, the line was never built, but the tunnel provisions are still there, and the legacy design documents still exist for the route. The vision for Cobb calls for the Northwest extension to be built almost exactly as originally designed, with updates to adjust for modern terrain and construction. This new Northwest (Grey is the color chosen to depict this route) Line would then continue along the I-75 Corridor to Cumberland, where it would then either continue along I-75, or shift to follow Cobb Pkwy. In both cases, the northernmost terminus would be Marietta.

Not shown on the map are potential future extensions of both the Green and Blue Lines into the county as well.


Rail Service - Commuter Rail Transit (CRT)

Commuter Rail Transit, from Downtown Atlanta and through to the western and northern boarders of the county, would provide lower service than Heavy Rail, but still serve both locals' and commuters' needs in historic railroad towns that are somewhat separated from the main density corridor as spokes from the central city.

In 2006, GDOT was ready to begin construction of the first leg of what was to be a metro-wide commuter rail network, and eventually a state-wide intercity rail network. Unfortunately, state politics kept the initial line, and by extension the rest of the system, from ever being built.

In 2014, Clayton County joined MARTA, with the promise of some kind of high-capacity transit service. Though MARTA is studying multiple technologies, it is most likely that the eventual plan will be to build the region's first commuter rail line from East Point station to Lovejoy. This line will establish the precedence for future commuter rail lines in the region.

The vision for Cobb calls for three routes, following original GDOT planned lines, to be built, with stops in historic railroad towns and at regionally significant locations. Though commuter rail tends to be more rush-hour oriented, it is possible that commuter rail could be designed as a higher frequency service similar to heavy rail, providing bi-directional trains for people to move between each town all day.

Additionally, the commuter rail lines would be open to other passenger services, such as Amtrak or other regional trains, allowing a separation from the freight rail network where such separate track is built.


Bus Service - Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

Bus Rapid Transit layered on top of the Heavy Rail backbone, and the Commuter Rail branches, would then fill in the rapid transit gap. Primarily running along arterial roads, buses in dedicated lanes would take up frequent, high-capacity service where rail would be too expensive, and unnecessary to meet the county's needs.

These routes would not only connect economic nodes within the county to one another, but provide additional high-capacity transit to other economic nodes in North Fulton.

Additional bus services like Arterial Rapid Transit, Frequent Service, Local Bus Service, Express Service, and Community Circulators would be further layered atop the BRT network. All together, Cobb would have an incredible network of services meeting a vast majority of its needs to handle its current population and future growth.


Picture Credit: Atlanta Regional Commission

Picture Credit: Citizens for Progressive Transit

Additional Route Options

Of course, the vision presented above is just one set of options. Other plans have been assembled by others, illustrating similar, though different potential transit services in the metro, let alone Cobb County.

It is important to remember that non of the proposals made here are final, and that Cobb would have ample opportunity to negotiate with MARTA as to the specifics of its service.

Before joining in 2014, MARTA completed an operations feasibility review for Clayton County, outlining likely bus routes, as well as the potential for high-capacity transit to be funded. Such a review would be completed, either on MARTA's own part, or at Cobb's request, to establish a basic plan. From there, specific routes and services can be added or removed based on the needs and finances available.

It is further important to remember that, though many routes and technologies may seem obvious choices, MARTA will undergo a review and study period for all services implemented, offering a chance for citizens to weigh in, as well as weighing benefits to costs for each option available.


Funding

It is a natural thought, having seen the maps above, to wonder what the vision will cost Cobb. The answer, to be quite frank, is a lot. That said, it should be understood that the cost is not so much that Cobb can not afford a significant amount of the vision, if not the entire thing.

The tables to the left show a potential scenario of what a 1% sales tax would bring in for the county. Please note how there are multiple options for reserving tax collected in the county for high-capacity transit. The scenario is set up to collect tax from 2020 until the MARTA tax comes up for renewal in 2057, but the same math could be performed for any appropriate period of collection. 

In 2014, Clayton joined MARTA. Initially they only wanted to join with a 0.5% sales tax, but accepted the full 1% sales tax under the condition that MARTA withhold half of the collected tax for building high-capacity transit. This withheld amount is what will fund the likely commuter rail line in Clayton. MARTA is obligated to deliver the service within a given timeline, or else return the money.

In the City of Atlanta, MARTA has been given an additional .5% to the baseline 1% sales tax. A significant portion of the money collected from the additional tax will be issued through bonds, the agency's primary way of financing projects. These bonds will be put up as backing to the federal government, with the intent that they will be matched, essentially doubling the amount of money available for high-capacity transit projects. This would basically be returning the citizens' own federal taxes to themselves in the form of infrastructure.

Cobb County could certainly negotiate a similar deal depending on how many projects they want to fund with whichever agency is chosen.


Edgewood / Candler Park Transit Oriented Development Picture Credit: MARTA

Edgewood / Candler Park Transit Oriented Development

Picture Credit: MARTA

King Memorial Transit Oriented Development Picture Credit: MARTA

King Memorial Transit Oriented Development

Picture Credit: MARTA

Transit Oriented Developments (TODs)

Starting with Lindbergh, but having really kicked off in the past few years, MARTA is augmenting its revenue by leasing the property it owns around stations to developers to build housing, businesses, and public spaces.

These developments allow a multitude of benefits, for both the agency and the surrounding areas:

  • The long-term leases provide a steady, additional, stream of revenue for further funding agency projects and services.
  • The developments add both destinations as well as sources for trips, adding to ridership.
  • The developments add to the tax base of the host city.
  • The developments add food, retail, and other options for local residents to visit.
  • The developments add residencies with immediate access to high-capacity transit, and immediate access to any and all bus lines using that station.

Such developments are not required, nor are they appropriate for every potential station, but TODs do add to agency's financial stability, and ability to fund additional projects. As such, they should be welcomed at as many station sites as possible, including those for commuter rail and bus rapid transit.