By Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul
Editor’s Note: Mayor Paul adapted this column from his “State of the City” address on Feb. 23.
Congestion is the most important challenge we face as a community. Without constructing another building in Sandy Springs, traffic will, in fact, get worse. The growth rate of metro Atlanta’s population is twice the national average, with our numbers expected to rise from 6 million to 10 million during the next 20 years.
We must change the way we move people or traffic will drown us, because we cannot move that many people in one-person-per-vehicle increments.
I am a strong advocate for extending MARTA as far north as we can. We also need an east-west MARTA line connecting the Doraville station with the I-75 area. (Note: Since Mayor Paul’s “State of the City” address, the Georgia Senate killed the MARTA extension bill for this legislative session.)
A recent study conducted under “Next Ten,” our long-range land use reform effort, shows that 70 percent of Sandy Springs residents would avoid driving if they had a timely, safe and efficient option that took them where they want to go. That’s a reflection of how difficult it is to drive around here and the evolving attitude change toward transit. The study also found that reducing vehicular traffic by just 10 percent would profoundly ease congestion.
To help put that into perspective: how well do you know the precise time school starts and stops? Your morning commute knows. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows approximately 10,000 Sandy Springs public and private school students arrive by car each day, which translates into 40,000 vehicular trips a day (school, and back in the morning and afternoon). That is the traffic equivalent of a sold-out Falcons game five days a week, nine months a year.
Even if we get a MARTA extension approved, 10 years will pass before transit moves a single new passenger in our area. We can’t wait 10 years for congestion relief.
Gov. Deal gave us a great gift in the rebuild of the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange and the managed lanes for Ga. 400 and I-285. But the interchange help is four years away and the managed lanes even longer. Short term, we will experience disruption that always accompanies massive road projects. In the meantime, the Fulton County Commission and the county’s 14 mayors are working toward a program to generate more resources for intermediate road improvements. If voters approve, the north Fulton cities, rather than spend their allocation only in their jurisdictions, are developing a plan to allocate some of those resources toward coordinated regional transportation projects.
Regional solutions are vital to easing local congestion. A recent study measured 102,000 daily trips coming from outside Sandy Springs into the city and another 84,000 trips leaving Sandy Springs for other locations. Only 7,000 daily commutes stay solely within the city.
In other words, other communities flood Sandy Springs with traffic, while simultaneously, our residents congest other communities with our drivers. State law requires a unanimous vote by all 14 mayors and the county commission to present voters with a plan; it is a near impossible bar to cross in a diverse county with varied needs and opinions. Yet, we are working diligently to get there.
The final piece is Perimeter area traffic reduction. Working with Dunwoody, Brookhaven and the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, we are looking for innovative solutions for moving people within the corridor, called “last mile connectivity.” It’s about connecting Perimeter MARTA stations and large area employment centers more efficiently.
This is where the media picked up our conversations about monorails, gondolas and other non-traditional transit forms. Candidly, we are investigating all possible options for cost-effective, practical ways to move large volumes of people without engaging the street network. Plus, we may find a way to make travel there less grueling and more fun.
Will it work? We don’t know yet. However, we would be remiss if we don’t consider all alternatives and seriously ascertain whether they are viable for this unique district within our community.