By Jonathan Banes
BAMSouth.com Contributing Writer
On November 16th, the DeKalb County government held a neighborhood summit in Downtown Decatur to discuss its proposal for extensive transportation improvements not only for Decatur proper but for the major corridors located throughout the county. There, community leaders from DeKalb met with officials, specifically PatreceKeeter (DeKalb County Department of Public Works) and Cristina Pastore (Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc) who are the primary representatives of the project proposal. The goals of this ambitious project consists of four primary objectives: improve mobility for all people, enhance quality of life, improve economic vitality, and a focus on implementation of the aforementioned transportation plan.
The plan itself calls for a joint federal-state-municipal-corporate venture in order to expand and maintain a number of much needed road, highway/interstate, and mass transit projects in DeKalb County. Most notable of these proposed projects is a 15 mile MARTA (heavy rail) extension, from the existing Indian Creek Station, located immediately off of Interstate-285 North near Memorial Drive, to the Mall of Stonecrest, which opened in fall of 2001, in the Far East of the County.
The Mall of Stonecrest and the surrounding restaurants and business started developing the former granite quarry in the mid-late 1990s as an attempt develop the economically stagnant East DeKalb/West Rockdale County region. As the decade progressed, the area around the mall, principally the City of Lithonia and the western most residential and commercial neighborhood of Conyers, grew significantly both in commercial businesses as well as residential developments along the I-20 corridor.
Given the amount of daily congestion along the I-285 and I-20 it’s unknown whether any potential heavy rail expansion along said corridors will fit a similar path as the Los Angeles Metro system which has a notable inclusion of light and heavy rail lines running parallel and in some cases in between major interstates highways. Other improvements proposed in the plan include greater pedestrian and cyclist road access, such projects would be modeled on the successes that the City of Decatur and the North Druid Hills neighborhood that surrounds Emory University.
The DeKalb County Transportation Plan is scheduled to submit its proposal to the County Board of Commissioners, tentatively, in spring of 2014 for approval after which it will be signed by the interim Chief Executive Officer, Lee May.
While the DeKalb County Transportation Plan for 2014 does seem appealing and will most likely be approved by the DeKalb county leadership, what is the likelihood this will receive support from the state level? When MARTA sought out political and substantial support from the Gold Dome it was rebuffed and has since had to deal with significant hostility with regards to expansion, particularly to the North Metro Atlanta area. Could this venture by DeKalb municipal government be railroaded in the same fashion as MARTA was in the 1980s and 90s?
Again, in last year’s Transportation Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) referendum – the proposed penny sales tax on focus areas of both the Metro Atlanta and North Georgia region for improving specific transportation issues – was overwhelmingly voted down. Would this new Transportation proposal also meet a similar fate? Time will only tell whether or not the metro area is willing to invest in improving its mass transit infrastructure, however, I tend to be optimistic in my outlook on such matters. I also tend to believe that improving the economic situation, not only for DeKalb but for the inner core of the Metro Atlanta region (Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, and Cobb counties), will be a major boost to our local economy.
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