Voices of South Cobb residents were missing from public discourse on rail in Cobb. The proposed rail line to Cumberland and the backlash reported in the media made it seem that Cobb County only runs up I-75.
I use I-20 to travel between my South Cobb home and the City of Atlanta. Here opportunity for transit seems ripe.
Many who live west of the City drive down I-20 West to the HE Holmes Marta Station to take rail downtown. This choice, for me last summer, was less a matter of saving time and more of a choice to save money. Extending rail outside the perimeter could accomplish both.
At a recent Livable Communities meeting off Six Flags Drive, working-class, middle-class residents, both black and white, discussed the desire to have a MARTA Park-and-Ride option in the area. Similar voices for increased transit options in Cobb were inaudible when the Regional Transportation list was shopped in Cobb. What we heard instead was negative sentiment from persons in communities that are more distant, whether geographically or otherwise, from communities in Cobb that need affordable and alternate transportation to Atlanta.
A common argument against rail in Cobb included assertion that transit operation and maintenance costs exceed what riders pay. However data shows that metro Atlanta roads—their building and maintenance—also exceed what drivers pay. National and state fuel taxes only cover 35% and 15% of road costs, respectively. (http://www.atlantaregional.com/transportation/financing-transportation). Consequently, limiting transit because it is not self-funding should not be the controlling argument.
Argument was also made that extending rail to the Cumberland Mall area would be a waste of funds since traffic is less heavy between that area in Cobb and downtown Atlanta. Planning an initial rail line to the Cumberland area, however, is a much more manageable project, and less costly than building the first rail line from Atlanta to the city of Marietta. Furthermore, building rail to Cumberland does not foreclose opportunities to build further north. It in fact makes it more feasible to do so.
Limited transportation alternatives in Cobb add to our increasingly clogged roads and long commute times for drivers. Yet, the ongoing and most dire impact to those without cars is isolation from job centers, schools, supermarkets, healthcare…anywhere that requires travel beyond foot.
These latter issues make the debate of transit in Cobb very personal and even critical for many residents in South Cobb and all of Cobb. These persons are no less passionate or concerned about transit than those whose voices were made known. It is quite likely that these persons lacked ability to travel to meetings to appeal to their elected officials. Even I, a mother of two toddlers, struggled to make the county meetings despite having a vehicle.
Though disappointed that Cobb leadership removed rail from the regional transportation list, I believe the County still has opportunity to take a step back and study how transit could better fit into Cobb’s overall transportation plan. My suggestion would be to start in areas where communities are most receptive and build out from there. County officials may be pleasantly surprised to see how much support they get.
Lisa Cupid is running for District 4 Commissioner in Cobb County and is committed to the improvement of the South Cobb area.