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John Ruch Posted by on November 25, 2017.

I-285 transit meeting is latest cross-city planning effort

A new multi-city group may form to advocate for mass transit on the top-end Perimeter following an informal Nov. 8 gathering convened by Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst.

And that’s just the latest regional idea to spin out of a new four-city nonprofit called the Peachtree Gateway Partnership, which is also looking at a possible self-taxing business district in the area of Buford Highway and Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst.

The I-285 transit meeting, held at the Villa Christina event space in Brookhaven’s Perimeter Summit area included mayors and other city officials “from Smyrna to Tucker,” said Ernst.

“It was about seeing if we had a common goal to look at transit and mobility around the region,” said Ernst. “Nothing was proposed. Nothing was foreclosed.”

The multi-city gathering had no name, but the group “may be formalized” and meet again, Ernst said.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, a strong proponent of mass transit connections in the Perimeter area, was among the attendees.

“I thought it was very productive and sets in motion what could be a multicounty leadership group to focus on east/west mobility and multimodal connectivity across the Perimeter’s northern arc from Cumberland to Doraville,” Paul said in an email afterward.

Paul had mentioned the gathering at the previous night’s Sandy Springs City Council meeting, where he said, “The journey of a thousand miles has to start with a step,” and praised Brookhaven for starting a conversation.

Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson, another participant, said that “everybody in the group agreed that we need to meet regularly” and bring in other organizations, such as the Georgia Department of Transportation and the self-taxing community improvement districts in Perimeter Center and Cobb County’s Cumberland area.

Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson.

Clarkson called the meeting a “great discussion” and added that “it’s always been a dream of mine to connect some form of transit, at minimum, from Doraville [MARTA] Station to Perimeter Center.”

Chamblee is currently studying a possible transit circulator system for its central area, likely involving autonomous vehicles, said Clarkson. Noting a recent news item about the ride-rental company Uber’s study of flying drone taxis, Clarkson said that it is important for cities to keep up with the rapid changes in transit and transportation technology.

“The Jetsons are here,” he said. “It’s no longer science fiction. It’s science fact.”

Ernst said there was no presentation at the meeting, “just chatting.” While transit has long been a big topic around the Perimeter, and traffic and transportation is everyone’s top issue, these multi-city leaders had never been in the same room before, Ernst said.

Various forms of mass transit and alternative transportation along and around I-285 have been proposed over the years, including multiuse trails, trains and even monorails — which Paul himself recently discussed again. This year’s opening of SunTrust Park in Cobb County raised the issue again, and there is a growing sense of urgency as the state plans to widen and add ramps to the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange take more right of way.

“I think it’s a concern and an opportunity,” Clarkson said of the right of way concerns.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul.

Asked whether representatives from cities in Cobb County, which has declined MARTA service in the past, offered any different perspectives on transit, Ernst said, “Everyone’s looking for different solutions.” Officials from that area did not respond to comment requests.

Doraville Interim City Manager Regina Williams-Gates attended, according to city spokesperson Robert Kelley. He said the message from Mayor Donna Pittman is that “Doraville remains supportive of any transit options put on the table.”

Tucker sent City Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Michelle Penkava. “From our perspective, it was a good opportunity for representatives from these cities to get together and discuss a mutual challenge,” said city spokesperson Matt Holmes.

Peachtree Gateway Partnership gears up

While the I-285 transit meeting was unprecedented, it spun out of discussions by another regional group, the Peachtree Gateway Partnership, according to Clarkson. A public-private group, the partnership includes the cities of Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Chamblee and Doraville, along such major businesses as Georgia Power, Epps Aviation, the Jim Ellis automotive dealership and the development firm Integral Group.

A map of the Peachtree Gateway Partnership area presented by the Atlanta Regional Commission to the city of Dunwoody in 2016.

Incorporated last year as a nonprofit with assistance from the Atlanta Regional Commission, the partnership is modeled on similar efforts in Gwinnett County and around Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It’s intended to promote regional planning and economic development among the cities.

The partnership’s first effort is oriented toward alternative transportation. It involves coordinating multiuse trail plans among the four cities so their systems will properly connect.

Clarkson said the partnership also has a committee studying a possible new community improvement district, or CID, in the area between Buford Highway and Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, possibly extending farther west to Dunwoody’s Georgetown area. CIDs are districts where businesses tax themselves to fund various improvements to streets, landscape or public safety. The CID concept is being studied with matching funds from Mercer University, Clarkson said.

The partnership recently launched a website at PeachtreeGatewayPartnership.com.