Commission Chairman Smith explains his 'Yes' vote for mass transit in Fayette
Fayette County Commission Chairman Jack Smith says he does not support a transit system for the county’s future, but his attempts to get bus and rail service deleted from a regional plan failed.
Smith, who served on the Atlanta regional Transportation Planning Board by virtue of his chairmanship, said he indeed did vote for the regional plan, dubbed “Concept 3.”
The plan, which has no funding at this point, includes two bus routes through Fayette County and a light rail line that would stop in Peachtree City with a downtown Atlanta destination.
Smith said he voted for the plan because it “preserved” an option for Fayette to have transit if it is ever needed in the future.
“That’s not to say we have to take it, or that we’d even want to take it, but at least we have the option,” Smith said.
If such an offer was made today, Fayette County would have to say no to transit, Smith said.
“The voting public, according to what I know today, has no interest in footing the bill for any type of mass transit into Fayette County,” Smith said. “My position is I have no interest in footing the bill for any mass transit into Fayette County.”
Smith said that during the development of the Concept 3 plan, he argued against the placing of “arterial rapid bus lines” through Fayette.
One would go west-to-east from Newnan through Peachtree City and Fayetteville to McDonough and the other would go south-to-north from Fayetteville through Clayton County to an area near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Smith said he argued against the bus service because buses won’t truly be rapid since they would sit on the same roads snarled with regular automobile traffic.
“It doesn’t make any sense to do that because you’re not going to move any faster or any smoother than you would in a car sitting in regular traffic,” Smith said.
As for the “light rail” portion of the plan that would have a line stopping in Senoia, Peachtree City and Union City, Smith said it could take 50 years or more for such to become reality, if it ever does.
“The reality is that it will never be built without funding,” Smith said. “Currently there is zero funding and there is zero funding in the foreseeable future.”
Should funding become available, Smith said it makes more sense to build a light rail service in the median of Interstate corridors instead of putting them on existing rail that’s used by other railroad companies which is part of the current Concept 3 plan.
Smith noted that the two main reasons people ride transit is that it is either cheaper or quicker than driving a car.
“The income level in Fayette County is high enough that the difference between $1.80 (what MARTA currently charges for a one-way fare) and zero would not entice people to ride rapid transit in any manner unless it was truly rapid,” Smith said.
Smith also said that there has been no analysis that shows it is cheaper to run transit than it is for the state to build more highway capacity.
“Frankly, I don’t think there’s an economic model that exists that would support building transit into Fayette County,” Smith said. “... Someday it may be, but that is way, way into the future.”
While former Peachtree City Mayor Steve Brown has criticized Smith for even participating in the transit planning process, Smith said that was the only way to insure that Fayette County wouldn’t get stuck with something it didn’t want.
“The only way to have a voice in that is to participate,” Smith said.
Smith also suggested that if gas prices rose dramatically in the future, it might be in Fayette’s favor to be in a position to take advantage of transit options.
“The impossible thing to predict is what will happen with gas fuel prices and the economy,” Smith said. “There may come a time when people will be demanding mass transit and there may not. But I don’t see it on the horizon at the moment.”
The original version of the Concept 3 plan, Smith said, had a bus line that extended from Hartsfield to rural Woolsey. He questioned the reasoning for bringing the bus service to Woolsey and the transportation planners shortened the route to end in Fayetteville instead.
Smith said he suspected that the Woolsey location was suggested to pick up ridership from people commuting through Fayette from Spalding County, although no one ever admitted it.