A new bus system running along the planned I-285 toll lanes is the most feasible solution to provide east and west connectivity in the area, transportation consultants working with several cities along the interstate said in a report at the Sandy Springs City Council Jan. 22 retreat.
The study was the result of meetings initiated in 2017 by Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst with other top end mayors from Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Chamblee, Doraville, Smyrna and Tucker as well as Perimeter Community Improvement Districts and the Cumberland Community Improvement Districts, which all helped fund it. The effort looks at how to incorporate transit in the Georgia Department of Transportation’s toll lanes project and provide transit running east and west.
The consultants haven’t fully finished their work, but the presentation showed a preview of some recommendations the consultants plan to make, which include a “high-end” bus system running within the toll lanes.
“We know in a lot of people’s hearts they feel rail is absolutely necessary,” said Eric Bosman, a consultant with Kimley-Horn. “But a rubber-wheel system is the most efficient and would work.”
The study assumes the bus system would be unable to use the toll lane access points and would need to have its own. Building those would cost $300 million to $480 million depending on how far the project goes, the consultants said. The vehicle would cost another $10 million. Maintenance and operations would cost $5 to $8 million, they said.
“It’s much more affordable than I think any of us dreamed, not to say it’s cheap,” Mayor Rusty Paul said. “In my mind, it is doable project that is not beyond the realm of financial capabilities.”
Two access points could be built in Sandy Springs at Powers Ferry and Roswell roads, Bosman said. Another could be built between the Medical Center and Dunwoody MARTA Stations, he said. Although Raider Drive is shown on the map, it is not being currently considered for an access point, Bosman later clarified.
The consultants expect to present details on funding options, including a special type of tax district called a special services district, to the mayors at their next meeting later this month. But none of the options would completely cover the cost, Bosman said.
Councilmember John Paulson said he is not convinced the service would provide what people need and be widely-used.
“I’m skeptical that these trains are going to run anywhere near full,” he said.
The consultants are basing the estimates off a Nevada bus service that offers a “higher-end, premium service that would feel more like light rail vehicle or tram-based car,” Bosman said.
GDOT’s toll lanes project is not being built to accommodate rail and would cost ten times the amount the bus service would, Bosman said. Being able to use the infrastructure already being built by GDOT would save millions in cost, he said.
“They’re building their managed lanes with or without this input, but we’re trying to piggyback on this as much as we can,” said Todd Long, a consultant with Moreland Altobeli.
The project could either be built all the way from Cumberland Parkway on the west over to Tucker on the east, or on the most in-demand section from I-75 to Doraville, the consultants said.
A bus rapid transit system is already in the works on the Ga. 400 piece of the toll lanes project after receiving $100 million in funding from former Gov. Nathan Deal in 2018.
In a separate presentation by MARTA at the retreat, the transit agency said it expects to modify the North Springs MARTA Station to add a bus rapid transit platform either at-grade or elevated. At-grade would be estimated to cost $90 million and elevated $125 million.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct that, although Raider Drive is shown on the access point illustration, it is not being considered.