4 Questions with Faye DiMassimo

While it has been nearly ten years since the Atlanta region’s last major rail transit expansion, numerous jurisdictions and organizations are planning for the region’s next one. Atlanta is studying both the Beltline and a streetcar on the Peachtree Corridor. Both the Gwinnett Place and Gwinnett Village CIDs in Gwinnett County have looked at light rail for the I-85 corridor. The latest proposal comes from Cobb County and envisions a seven-station light rail line linking the Cumberland and Town Center districts. To learn more about this proposal, we conducted a brief interview with Faye DiMassimo, Director of Cobb County DOT:

Spotlight: Can you give us a brief synopsis of this project and its origins?

Faye DiMassimo: The US 41/Cobb Parkway Light Rail Transit proposal project history extends back to the 2001 Northwest Corridor Light Rail Transit Implementation Study completed by Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation and MS&E, Inc. The corridor encompasses all four County Commission Districts, the Cities of Marietta, Smyrna and Kennesaw and two Community Improvement Districts as well as key employers and institutions. This 2001 study was a collaborative effort between Cobb County and the Cumberland and Town Center Community Improvement Districts and defined a 17.4 mile trunkline including 14 station locations and circulators in Cumberland and Town Center. In addition, the current Regional Transportation Plan, Concept 3 (2008) regional transit plan and Cobb County Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CCCTP) (2008) also include light rail/high capacity rail investments in this corridor. The CCCTP defines the trunkline as 14.6 miles in length with circulators in Cumberland and Town Center, 14.1 and 12.4 miles in length respectively. Current 2025 ridership projections of this total investment at 92,600 daily boardings. Connectivity of this investment to the Perimeter area, rich with MARTA infrastructure, as a key component of an overall regional system is also considered a key asset in advancing this project. The US 41/Cobb Parkway light rail project will serve to reduce congestion by offering an alternative to home based work trips as well as enhancing connectivity to key destinations in Cobb County such as the entertainment and special event venues in Cumberland, shopping in Cumberland and Town Center, educational institutions such as Kennesaw State University (the third largest university in the State) and Southern Polytechnic State University, as well as Dobbins Air Reserve Base. In addition, redevelopment and development future opportunities can be guided to leverage the transit infrastructure to maximize the community’s return on investment.

Spotlight: Proposed policy revisions to the FTA New Starts funding program, which provides capital funds for large, fixed-guideway transit projects, seem to suggest that livability will play a larger role in determining which applicants are awarded funds. In light of this, how competitive do you think the Cobb Parkway light rail proposal will be?

FD: Several initiatives, including the proposed US 41/Cobb Parkway Light Rail Transit project, suggest the emphasis of livability as an enhancement to New Starts funding competitiveness underscore our assessment of this being right project at the right time. The Cumberland CID is currently creating a framework for sustainable transit oriented development under the new federal program called the Partnership for Sustainable Communities that include this corridor with other nearby critical travel corridors, important regional job centers and under utilized properties. Cobb County is a key partner in the Cumberland CID’s effort to prepare a plan for the area making it “transit ready”. In 2005, Cobb County identified the US 41 corridor as one of four sites to target for redevelopment under the county’s Redevelopment Overlay District. This District was established to provide locations for redevelopment of commercial, office and residential uses, with a pedestrian orientation.

Spotlight: What ideas do you have for funding the operations and maintenance of this proposed service?

FD: Our current strategy, still under development, includes approximately 20%-25% of operation and maintenance costs from fare revenue, federal sources at approximately 5%, and potential other sources funding the balance including a new transportation sales tax, CID participation, university student fees, benefit assessment districts, cities/county participation, advertising revenue, naming rights and parking fees.

Spotlight: Public support is a key component to building major transportation improvements. How do you think this proposal is being received by the citizens, businesses and institutions of Cobb County?

FD: Overall, public support has been positive. Many Cobb County citizens have used light rail and transit systems in other cities and have found them to be an effective component of the overall transportation infrastructure. Businesses and the development community have also inquired about the return on investment seen in other communities with similar systems and look forward to exploring what the potential may be in Cobb County. Realizing the importance of public support, Cobb County’s next steps include a fall series of public outreach activities including charrettes, public meetings, and stakeholder interviews to better understand the questions, concerns and desires of citizens and community leaders that will need to shape the project development.

For more information about the Cobb Parkway Light Rail proposal, please visit the Cobb County DOT webpage at http://dot.cobbcountyga.gov/

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