The three Perimeter Center cities will team on a study of alternative transportation and a master plan for better connections to local MARTA stations, Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough announced Feb. 16. There were strong hints that will include, among other possibilities, a cost-benefit analysis of monorails, which have been hot topics in Brookhaven and Sandy Springs.

An image of gondolas, a form of public transit, as presented in January 2016 by consultants in Sandy Springs' "Next Ten" planning process.

An image of gondolas, a form of public transit, as presented in January 2016 by consultants in Sandy Springs’ “Next Ten” planning process, which addressed Perimeter Center mass transit.

And that’s not Sandy Springs’ only transportation-study team-up. Sandy Springs is joining north Fulton County’s other five cities in a co-funded $166,000 study of possible regional transportation options that would benefit them all. The intent, McDonough said at the Feb. 16 Sandy Springs City Council meeting, is to gain consensus on items to include in a possible transportation local option sales tax ballot question this year.

In the planning effort for traffic-choked Perimeter Center, the goal is to boost “last-mile connectivity” to MARTA by bicycle, walking or alternative mass transit. Officials in Brookhaven, Dunwoody and the Perimeter Center Improvement Districts have agreed to join Sandy Springs in issuing a request for proposals from consulting firms, McDonough said.

The cities will be “working toward a master connectivity plan” that includes improving existing plans for a multi-use trail network as well as a cost-benefit analysis of other “alternative modes of transportation,” McDonough said.

“We don’t know what that alternative transportation might be,” he said, but officials want to reserve right of way now.

“Futuristically, there’s been some discussion, [even] if it’s tongue-in-cheek, about people-movers, whether it’s gondolas or light rail,” McDonough said. In a later interview, he added that the options will focus “not necessarily [on] streets” but also any accessible routes “sort of winding through various properties.”

McDonough did not use the word “monorail.” Neither did Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, but the mayor did say he and McDonough have discussed transportation options “not just in a two-dimensional world, but maybe in a three-dimensional world.” The talk also echoes some public transit ideas recently presented by other consultants working on Sandy Springs’ “Next Ten” process, which is rewriting the zoning code and revising the land-use plan.

“This has been talked about a long time. The opportunity is here and now,” McDonough said of alternative transportation options for Perimeter Center.

There is no specific timeframe for the study’s budget or issuance of the request for proposals. The goal is for all three cities’ councils to approve a mutual master plan for the area, and possibly add any transportation projects to a T-SPLOST list, McDonough said.

T-SPLOST is the main agenda of the north Fulton study. Fulton mayors and county commissioners have been convening to discuss a possible T-SPLOST—and a controversial proposal for MARTA to take a chunk of its funds. Mayor Paul has emerged as a leading area advocate for MARTA expansion, and McDonough has been gathering city staffers from across north Fulton to coordinate regional transportation project planning.

“We’ve got mayors to agree to a regional master plan…,” Paul said. McDonough said in an interview that the transportation consulting firm Kimley-Horn has been hired by Sandy Springs and north Fulton’s five other cities: Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain Park and Roswell.

“We felt like we really owed the people a good plan instead of working in a stovepipe, if you will, in our own jurisdictions,” said McDonough, adding that Kimley-Horn will “look at all of the [cities’] plans to see if we can find consensus.” The study also will look at the benefits of managed lanes versus bus rapid transit or light rail along Ga. 400, he said. Results are due by April 30.

Paul repeated his idea that such consensus-based regional planning is the path to a successful T-SPLOST, unlike the latest one that famously failed in 2012. While pitching himself as a mediator among Fulton political leaders on transportation issues, Paul repeated his backing for MARTA funding and said transportation will be the focus of his Feb. 23 State of the City address.

“I have been a major supporter of getting more resources for MARTA, and I do it unapologetically,” said Paul. And in the end, he said, voters “will decide if they want to do something serious and meaningful about traffic.”

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