The Douglas County Board of Commissioners approved accepting the CMAQ Transportation Grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) for a four-route county-wide bus system during Tuesday’s regular session.
The vote was 3-2 along party lines with District 4 Commissioner Ann Jones Guider and District 3 Commissioner Mike Mulcare — both Republicans — opposing; Guider and Mulcare are the same two commissioners who held the recent Open Forum on the proposed bus system. The three Democrats on the BOC — Commission Chairman Romona Jackson Jones, District 1 Commissioner Henry Mitchell and District 2 Commissioner Kelly Robinson — all voted in favor of accepting the grant for the bus system.
The Atlanta Regional Commission’s board recently green-lighted 100 projects that included the Douglas grant to launch the county-wide bus service.
The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) federal grant application submitted by the Board of Commissioners for $4.8 million dollars with a $1.2 million local match over a three-year period was one of the projects approved.
The BOC tabled a vote on accepting the CMAQ Grant during their previous session last month, after hearing public input from both sides of the issue.
Some local opposition to the project has persisted since plans were changed to expand a two-route system to four routes and critics had been hanging onto to the hope that Douglas commissioners would vote down accepting the grant funding.
Heather Denis, chair of the Douglas County People’s Action Committee (DCPAC), the citizen’s group that opposed accepting the ARC Grant, spoke by phone, and said she and her group were disappointed, but not especially surprised by the BOC’s final vote.
Denis said that she’s resolved that it was time for the board to move on with their decision, but feels it was not handled as it should have been.
Denis contends that the public were largely left out of the process when the proposed system went to four routes, a step the board also never voted on.
“The commissioners didn’t get to vote on this and therefore the citizens weren’t represented,” she said.
DCPAC followers have felt under-represented in the ongoing local machinations to establish the four-route bus system and registered their opposition with “No Buses” signs posted in the county.
“It sets a precedent that process and procedure certainly didn’t happen this time and I don’t have a lot of faith that it will happen next time, and what does that mean? What does that look like going forward? And that’s kind of a scary place to be with government, and that was even discussed in the meeting (Tuesday) — process and procedure — so that’s something I would like to think the board of commissioners would work on immediately, so that everybody’s in the know about these big projects — and small projects,” Denis said.
The CMAQ grant would provide seed money and get buses rolling, but other options would have to be looked at down the road, which may include the recently passed Transportation Bill HB930.
HB930 creates an Atlanta-Region Transit Link (ATL) Authority to operate, plan and provide transit services in the 13-county metro Atlanta region and authorizes a county-level transit special purpose local option sales tax which could be levied for up to 30 years upon approval of the voters in the county.
Multi-modal Transportation Director Gary Watson provided a condensed version of the four bus routes planned:
• Downtown Douglasville: Serves the north side of Douglasville along Highway 92 and the business district along Church Street and the part of Selman Drive where the library and health center are.
• Arbor Place Mall: Serves the north side of Douglasville along Highway 92, and Forest Avenue, Chicago Avenue and Strickland Street. It will also provide access to Hunter Park, the Boys and Girls Club, Walmart and Sam’s, Douglas Boulevard west of Highway 5, Stewart Parkway, Highway 5 north of Kroger, Douglas Boulevard east of Highway 5, Timber Ridge Drive for West Georgia Technical College, and Hospital Drive for WellStar Douglas Hospital, the Courthouse and the Transportation Center on Dorris Road.
• Thornton Road/Riverside Drive: Serves Thornton Road south of I-20, and Riverside Drive west to the American Red Cross and Tributary.
• Lithia Springs: This is the connector route. At the Transportation Center in Douglasville, riders can take this shuttle and connect with the Thornton Road/Riverside Drive route, and also Cobb Link Route 30 which offers service to the H.E. Holmes MARTA station. It also serves the areas of Lithia Springs on South Sweetwater from Lee Road to Highway 78, and Highway 78 east to Thornton Road south. Riders returning from Atlanta on Cobb Route 30, or riders utilizing the Thornton Road/Riverside route can also take the Lithia Springs route back to Douglasville.
Specific stops and connecting points are still being evaluated, Watson said. He added that the service will operate from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.
Mulcare commented following the board’s vote Tuesday on Facebook, saying that the current administration was going approve a 4-route bus system all along.
“Politically speaking, it was always going to be the full-blown four-route system after Tom Worthan lost the chairmanship in 2016. ... I am thankful that the Holmes/MARTA route was not included in the final grant application (small victory). I have to extend appreciation to Kelly Robinson for hearing me on that. I always preferred the two route system but requested this change in the likely event the four-route system went forward. I recognize the good organizational work DCPAC did in opposition to the four-route application. It brought back fond memories of my work with Friends of Douglas County activist group as we won many battles (and lost a few) on quality of life issues in Douglas County. I will work for more citizen inclusion in process going forward. What form that will take I do not know because a majority of the board must support.”
Douglas County Commission Chairman Romona Jackson Jones had already indicated that she would move forward with the program.
District 2 Commissioner Kelly Robinson, who is also chairman of the Transportation Committee, characterized the board’s vote as “...a major victory for Douglas County citizens.”
“This was not just a policy shift but a progressive step in the right direction where the needs of a broader population base is finally being fulfilled,” said Robinson.
And Robinson added, “I’m pleased that I was in a position to advocate or work hard over the past three years to bring this to pass. Traditionally, seniors and disabled needs were only being met in Douglas County but now a more inclusive set of citizens can partake of public transportation such as Millennials, part time workers, one or no car owners. When more people are added to the economic development roster pool, then more lives can be improved through greater access to opportunity.”
Robinson also outlined the next steps in the process,
“The real work begins by the Administration, such as filing the formal application to the FTA for actual funds. At the same time, the BOC must award contracts to a third party operator of the bus service and a consultant to perform formal planning and communication. It is recognized during this process that the Administration must improve its delivery and engagement capacities with citizens. In addition to securing an agreement with Cobb County for rider continuity, all of this must be in place by December 1st to avoid the deadline where the ATL regional system, legislatively enacted in to state law under HB930...the next 120 days will be intense but worth it for the citizens [who] can expect to be riding in the first quarter of 2019.”
The ARC’s Transportation and Air Quality Committee previously gave their blessing to more than 100 transportation projects in the metro Atlanta area including Douglas County’s CMAQ federal grant application.
According to a press release available at ARC’s website, “the projects...are intended to improve roads and highways, enhance transit service, and expand the region’s network of multi-use trails. The projects, which cost a total of $400 million, will begin or be completed during the next five years.”
Federal transportation funds are covering most of the cost, with local governments providing more than $100 million in matching funds. ARC information online also notes long-term highway projects.
“The $400 million project list is in addition to $7 billion dollars of improvements that are already planned or under construction through 2023, such as Express lanes on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties, and a massive rebuild of the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange.”
DCPAC raises questions about breach of privacy by county. See story on Page A3.