The state of Sandy Springs is car-choked, Mayor Rusty Paul said Feb. 23 in his annual “State of the City” address to the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, where he recapped some transportation solutions in the works.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul delivers his “State of the City” address to the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce Feb. 23 at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North hotel. (Photo John Ruch)

“‘Gondolas? Monorails? Who is this guy kidding?’” Paul said that many people may exclaim in response to one new effort—a study of alternative mass transit options for Perimeter Center. But, the mayor added, “I’m trying to think about how we make transportation fun instead of grueling.”

However, Paul sounded less optimistic than ever about the chances—at least this year—for a new MARTA expansion sales tax effort he has played a key role in. “The stars are aligning, but I’m not sure they’re aligning in time for it to happen this year,” he said.

Speaking to hundreds of Chamber members and community leaders at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North hotel, Paul touched briefly on Sandy Springs’ City Springs downtown redevelopment and its “Next Ten” planning process. But he devoted his speech to transportation, saying it’s the most important issue that city government is tackling.

Paul repeated some numbers that “Next Ten” consultants recently gave the city. About 100,000 people commute into Sandy Springs—“the equivalent of filling up the Georgia Dome every day for a Falcons game.” (About 38,000 local residents commute out, consultants say.) Of the hundreds of residents who responded to questions at “Next Ten” events, 70 percent said they would prefer not to drive if they alternative options. And if 10 percent of those cars could be taken off the road, local travel times would drop 10 to 30 percent, consultants say.

Perimeter Center is a major traffic-producer as the area’s business core, Paul said. That’s why the cities of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, along with the Perimeter Center Improvement Districts, are teaming on the new study of alternative transportation options there.

“It may be weird, some of it. You may be thinking, ‘This guy has lost his mind,’” the mayor said. “If you think small, you are guaranteed to get small…One of the things I’m not going to be accused of is thinking small.”

He also urged local businesspeople to move to Perimeter Center, since people living close to their workplaces could “solve a lot of our transportation problems.”

A bigger project is MARTA’s quest to get up to a half-penny of a transportation special local option sales tax boost that could be on Fulton and DeKalb counties’ ballots this fall. The other half-penny could provide Sandy Springs with $64 million for road projects, Paul said.

Paul is a major booster of MARTA expansion in north Fulton. “MARTA is vital to the long-term health of our community,” he said. But all Fulton mayors, as well as the county commission, need to agree on the deal.

“This one is a tough nut to crack,” Paul said. “This is still Fulton County and unanimity is an almost impossible bar to reach.”

And perhaps even more challenging, the state Legislature needs to allow the issue to go on the ballot. A key Gold Dome move is coming up on Monday, Feb. 29, when the Senate will decide whether to allow the bill to move forward. Paul said many legislators in the Republican majority may not want to approve a tax-boosting bill in an election year, but hopes they will view it as simply a chance for voters to decide.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.