Two Fulton County transportation and transit planning efforts sought public input in a Sandy Springs double-header meeting Aug. 29. Among the priorities on a narrowing list favored by attendees were extending heavy rail along Ga. 400 and adding bus service to Abernathy and Johnson Ferry roads.

The meeting, which drew about 20 attendees to City Hall, reviewed two separate and distinct plans that both aim to wrap up with recommendations in December: the North Fulton Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) and the Fulton County Transit Master Plan.

Heavy-rail train service along Ga. 400 was a favored priority in sticker voting at the Fulton County transportation planning meeting Aug. 29 at Sandy Springs City Hall. (John Ruch)

The two plans have different focuses and timeframes. The CTP covers north Fulton’s six cities and looks ahead 25 years, a timeframe that has it mostly, but not exclusively, sticking to road and multi-use path projects. The Transit Master Plan is a 40-year plan, focused on mass transit, for all of Fulton except the city of Atlanta, which has its own transit plan already funded by a new sales tax boost.

The CTP, an update of an earlier version from 2010, has been in the works for a year. The Transit Master Plan only began in June and held its first local meeting in late July. Both plans seek to seize momentum for regional-minded transportation improvements in the increasingly car-choked area. In particular, the Transit Master Plan aims to be ready in time for the General Assembly’s 2018 session, where legislators are expected to have groundbreaking discussions on possible state funding and management of public transit systems.

Gabriel Sterling, a Sandy Springs city councilmember and candidate for Fulton County chairman, introduces the planning process to the audience. (John Ruch)

The meeting introduction was given by Gabriel Sterling, a Sandy Springs city councilmember and candidate for Fulton County chairman. He said he would not talk about what local officials are thinking, instead emphasizing that the public really will set priorities in the plans.

“Y’all’s input is absolutely necessary,” he said, adding that solutions are needed as the massive growth project over the next two decades looms. “Essentially, South Carolina – the population of South Carolina – is going to get dropped on metro Atlanta,” he said.

Recently elected state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Cobb County), whose District 32 includes part of Sandy Springs, spoke briefly about the odds of the legislature taking action that might benefit Fulton’s transit plans.

“There’s the whole thing about the two Georgias,” she said, referring to different urban and rural infrastructure priorities. But, she added, “I’m optimistic there’ll be progress.”

Consultants from both planning efforts had creative ways to seek input on projects while also emphasizing feasibility and financial limits. For the CTP, attendees were invited to place $100 in imaginary money into their choice of literal funding buckets labeled with such categories as “Trails,” “Transit” and “Sidewalks.”

“Funding buckets” let attendees consider how they would prefer spending limited money in the North Fulton Comprehensive Transportation Plan process. (John Ruch)

For the Transit Master Plan, attendees got to sticker-vote on a board of possible projects and preferred transit alternatives, such as buses or trains. But they were limited to 10 stickers, and more expensive options “cost” more stickers. The board also ruled out some options as either infeasible or as too low-capacity to meet ridership needs.

Both plans have dedicated websites with more information and online surveys for further input. For the CTP, see northfultonctp.com. For the Transit Master Plan, see fultoncountyga.gov/tmp-home.

Transit Master Plan priority corridors

Since the July meeting, the Transit Master Plan has narrowed its list of roadway corridors that could be improved with transit to eight, of which three are at least partly in Sandy Springs. Some of the options would extend into other counties, which are not directly part of this plan, but might tie in via the Atlanta Regional Commission, which is the main funder.

On the sticker-vote chart, the corridors were paired with a range of transit options limited by feasibility and capacity needs. The options included heavy rail; light rail; bus rapid transit, meaning a bus in a dedicated lane; frequent-service local bus; regular-service local bus; and a “flexible” shuttle-type bus.

The priority corridors and range of transit options included:

The board showing Transit Master Plan priority corridors and feasible options before sticker voting began. (John Ruch)

Ga. 400 (between North Springs MARTA Station to Holcomb Bridge Road or Old Milton Parkway): Heavy rail, light rail, bus rapid transit

I-285 (between the Cobb County line and the city of Dunwoody in DeKalb County): Light rail, bus rapid transit

Abernathy/Johnson Ferry roads (in Sandy Springs and listed as extending to Ashford-Dunwoody Road, though only a separate part of Johnson Ferry goes there, and that end is a different county, DeKalb): Frequent bus, regular bus

Holcomb Bridge Road (between SR 9 and Barnwell Road, not the segment that borders Sandy Springs): Bus rapid transit, frequent bus, regular bus

Old Milton Parkway: Bus rapid transit, frequent bus, regular bus

SR 141: Bus rapid transit, frequent bus, regular bus

Roswell Road/SR 9 (between the cities of Roswell and Alpharetta, not the Sandy Springs segment): Bus rapid transit, frequent bus, regular bus

Windward Parkway: Regular bus, shuttle bus

Sticker-voting strongly favored heavy rail along Ga. 400, where MARTA has proposed a Red Line extension, and frequent buses on Abernathy/Johnson Ferry. The Ga. 400 heavy rail has been popular in other Fulton cities’ meetings, consultants said.

The presentation included some survey results on what features people think a transit system should have to be successful. The top feature, by far, was a “strong network,” meaning that it goes where people want it to take them. “On time” and “clean” also ranked high.

CTP options

The CTP is an attempt to take a regional approach at setting priorities on a wide variety of transportation improvements, both short-term and long-term. Besides Sandy Springs, it includes the cities of Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain Park and Roswell.

The CTP is not rehashing improvements that are already funded, such as those on the project list of the recently approved transportation special local option sales tax. Instead, it’s about planning for a future TSPLOST or other funding.

Among the CTP proposals for Sandy Springs in the nearer term are widening Hammond Drive and adding bicycle and pedestrian amenities. Another is further extending the PATH400 multi-use trail from its current Buckhead segment. Current plans would take it into Sandy Springs and, as part of the state’s reconstruction of the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange, bring it through the Medical Center to Peachtree-Dunwoody Road. The CTP proposes extending PATH400 further along Peachtree-Dunwoody to Abernathy Road.

As a longer-term idea, the CTP proposes such multi-use trails along all of Ga. 400 and I-285 within the city.

At the meeting, attendees were asked to sticker-vote on various other possible Sandy Springs projects. They included: Turning Roswell Road into a “boulevard” with a median and bike lanes, as proposed in the city’s recent Next Ten planning effort; building a “limited access” road over Ga. 400 between Glenlake Parkway and the North Springs MARTA Station; adding transit on Ga. 400 or I-285; and adding bicycle and pedestrian improvements to the Peachtree-Dunwoody Road corridor and streets in the Powers Ferry Landing area.

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