Downtown transit hub suffers setback | www.myajc.com

27
Dec

Downtown transit hub suffers setback | www.myajc.com

The decades-old dream of a transit hub downtown that would bring together commuter and freight rail, MARTA and longer-haul passenger buses appears to have suffered a significant blow.

The state’s plan for a central passenger terminal counts on negotiating with private freight companies to share their tracks through the “Gulch” area with commuter rail cars. But Norfolk Southern, the railway company that owns the tracks where a proposed commuter rail line from southern counties would run, has written to the state Department of Transportation saying it does not have the space.

Advocates for the project say the potential loss of commuter rail would not kill the project.

The terminal project is a long-held dream of downtown Atlanta boosters, meant not just to aid transit but to recreate the living and working space in the area. One study last year projected the massive development could bring more than 15,000 new jobs to downtown over 30 years and produce billions of dollars in annual benefits for the state economy.

Space for a terminal was identified decades ago, but funding was not. The head-turning step came in 2011, when the state Department of Transportation hired a developer for an ongoing, $12.2 million study on whether the transit and real-estate development plan could work.

But perhaps the most significant part of that plan —a long-desired end point for commuter rail to Atlanta — now seems deeply undermined.

DOT released a statement acknowledging the importance of freight rail in addition to passenger rail, and cautioning against a rush to conclusions before the state studies the issue of freight logjams in depth. And even if commuter trains never touch the terminal, they added, the terminal has other purposes.

“We are currently working through this part of the planning process and the shared rail option remains on the table,” said the statement from DOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale. Furthermore, the terminal joins many modes of transportation, “not just the shared use of freight and passenger rail tracks.” She pointed to a terminal in San Francisco which is initially opening with just bus service.

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