By Maggie Lee
All of north Fulton County’s cities now agree on a list of roads, public transit and paths that have first priority. Now, here’s the real question: Where will it get the $1 billion or more to pay for it?
Topping the list of priorities is Highway 9 from Alpharetta City Hall seven miles north, past the Forsyth County line. The priciest projects in the plan, it would be worthwhile to spend $119 million to double it to four lanes, according to a nearly year-long transportation study conducted in North Fulton County.
The study was funded mostly by the federal government and was authored by the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Two projects in Sandy Springs made it onto the so-called “tier-one” list, meaning they are top priorities when funding becomes available. One is widening Hammond Drive to four lanes to the west of Ga. 400 and six lanes from Ga. 400 to the DeKalb line. Add sidewalks and bike lanes for both sides of the roadway and the price tag tallies to $29 million.
The other is a $16-million bike-and-pedestrian path leading from Cobb County, over the Chattahoochee River, through Morgan Falls Park and to the City of Dunwoody.
This kind of project, integrated among neighboring cities and including several modes of transport, has a better chance of winning federal funding, according to the regional commission’s report. In fact, if “tier-one” projects are to be completed, it’s very likely state and federal funds will pay the bills. The “tier-one” projects add up to $484 billion.
North Fulton wallets will have to open wider, however, for the so-called “tier-two” projects.
More property taxes, more sales taxes or a local options sales tax would have to pay $10 million for the Atlanta Regional Commission-recommended bike paths along Roswell Road in Sandy Springs.
However, a trio of “tier-two” projects will be the responsibility of Sandy Springs to fund. The projects add up to $4.6 million. They include I-285 at Riverside Drive, Ga. 400 at Northridge Road and widening part of Glenridge Drive.
The commission’s report focuses on surface streets as opposed to state routes and interstates. Interstate 285 and Ga. 400, for instance, are regional and not under the purview of cities in north Fulton County. However, the report does recommend the concept of access roads along Ga. 400.
The plan does not embrace either light or heavy rail. The report noted heavy public support for more rail, however, the plan doesn’t recommend building it because of its expense.
Above North Springs MARTA station, a new heavy rail line would cost about $270 million per mile. Light rail would cost about $75 million per mile.
For a 13.3-mile line ending at Windward Parkway, annual operation would cost $48 million for heavy rail and $24 million for light.
As for operations, MARTA is the only transit system in the state whose budget is overseen by the Georgia General Assembly . Politicians answer to constituents from Albany to Rome and decide how MARTA can spend its money. They are unlikely to support a line that couldn’t pay for itself.
In the meantime, the commission’s report recommends more express busses along GA 400 and studies for the same on SR 140, 120 and Hammond Drive. The point would be to connect the north side to highways and neighboring counties.
In the longer term, cities should hold on to rights-of-way along the freeway for future expansion and look to increase home and work density near existing train stops.
Mixed-use developments are most conducive to getting people out of the car and on their feet, the report says, adding that as a rule, pedestrians can’t be convinced to regularly walk more than half a mile.