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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
November 12, 2001

Transportation vote marks GRTA shift
Agency to assume expanded duties with expected approval of $.6 billion plan.
Julie B. Hairston - Staff

Metro Atlanta's $.6 billion, three-year transportation plan is headed for easy approval by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Board on Wednesday.

But the sheer size of the plan has board members pondering the 2-year-old authority's evolution from planner to manager of transportation projects throughout the region.

"What's significant about this for GRTA is that we've got a lot of projects in it that we specifically are a part of," said Columbus banker Walter "Sonny" Deriso, chairman of the GRTA board.

In particular, the transportation plan contains funding to expand the newly launched bus network GRTA has helped to coordinate. Last month, the Clayton County bus system began service. Just weeks later, Gwinnett County's express bus service to downtown Atlanta began to roll.

The first Quicklink buses between Macon and Atlanta hit the highway today with stops in Locust Grove, McDonough, Hartsfield International Airport and various points throughout downtown Atlanta.

Thirty-eight percent of the projects in the $.6 billion plan will provide transportation alternatives to the solo-driver car for Atlanta commuters. Construction of additional high-occupancy vehicle lanes will account for another 21 percent of the spending. Bridge and interchange improvements make up 10 percent of the plan, while safety upgrades and maintenance will take14 percent.

"It's a good step in the right direction," said GRTA board member Shi Shailendra.

Several GRTA board members have personal reservations about the plan, but none said their questions were compelling enough to risk delaying passage. GRTA must approve the plan before the money to pay for any of the projects can be released. The Atlanta Regional Commission approved it in October.

GRTA board member Eric Hovdesven, an attorney and neighborhood advocate, said he is concerned that the spending is too heavily tilted to north metro projects. But Shailendra, a south metro developer, said he expects the balance to shift slowly.

"The inequities we've had in the past are not going to go away overnight," Shailendra said.

Hovdesven also expressed concern that a number of Northside projects, including the Northern Arc, will receive funding before GRTA-sponsored studies about the transportation and air quality needs of the area are complete.

"I don't like that it commits us to projects before we've completed the studies," Hovdesven said.

Jim Stephenson, a construction-equipment supplier who serves on the GRTA board, said he thinks the plan falls short of the spending needed to improve metro Atlanta's traffic, despite its $.6 billion price tag.

"Our long-range plan is for mobility to get worse and for congestion to get worse," Stephenson said. "This is not a plan we would accept if we were talking about education, or health care ... or anything else. So, why do we settle for it when it comes to transportation?"

In fact, metro Atlanta's projected daily pollution levels are expected to increase next year as planners prepare the next short- and long-range transportation plans. GRTA's job, Deriso said, is to minimize that effect as much as possible.

"The [plan] is finally enabling us to get to the point where we're making improvements that will make a difference," Deriso said. "We are working to contain emissions as we grow."

The GRTA board will vote on the plan at its 1 p.m. meeting on Wednesday at the GRTA offices, 235 Peachtree Center Ave., Suite 900