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Strings attached to North Fulton CID’s Blueprint 2.0

North Fulton’s Community Improvement District has created an update to their Blueprint plan. The self-taxing group of commercial property owners advocates, and in some cases implements, transportation projects in the area. Their blueprint 2.0 plan(opens to pdf) outlines projects they hope to work on over the next several years.

north_fulton_cidThe CID does some great work. Recently they finished the triple left turn lanes from Mansell Road onto North Point Parkway. A similar and much need project is planned for the GA-400 ramp to Windward Parkway. They’re also responsible for much of the new landscaping you see throughout the city.

But the CID should be carefully watched. Their leadership has deep ties to Georgia’s establishment transportation bureaucracy. Brandon Beach is the CID’s executive director. He’s a former Georgia DOT commissioner and sits on powerful transportation committees in the Georgia Senate. Atlanta Regional Commission chairman Tad Leithead also sits on the CID board.

CIDs are often used as local advocacy groups, providing the tailwind to get bigger projects moving. They can fund studies and create engineering plans, even on projects outside of their areas. These plans can then be picked up and funded by any of Georgia’s alphabet soup of transportation agencies (GDOT, ARC, GRTA, SRTA, etc).

An example might be transit stations in Alpharetta. The blueprint calls for transit stations at Encore Parkway and Windward Parkway. It was only a few months ago when Alpharetta’s Council was browbeating MARTA over plans to come here. Yet the same Council didn’t even mention the transit stations in the CID’s blueprint when presented to them two weeks ago.

If Alpharetta’s Council is serious about stopping MARTA expansion then they should push back on the CID when they plan for it! Or do they have the guts to challenge Brandon Beach? It’s doubtful.

The CID will hold an open house tonight at 5:30 at their office, 11605 Haynes Bridge Road. The public is invited to attend and provide feedback.

North Fulton’s CID does some great work but with strings attached. It’s important to carefully watch seemingly small transportation plans like this. Read between the lines and watch the process.

MARTA’s Connect 400 survey is paltry, irresponsible

Today MARTA’s board will hear findings from the Connect 400 initiative. The study will present what they call the “Locally Preferred Alternative” for transit along the GA-400 corridor.

MARTA trainThe recommendation is for heavy rail. They want it built up the GA-400 right of way to Windward Parkway at an estimated capital cost of $2.6 billion.

I really wish I could be at the meeting today. No, I don’t want to speak out against heavy rail. I just want to see if these guys can make this suggestion and keep a straight face.

The study is making this recommendation after hearing from only 136 respondents. Somehow this miniscule sample size is enough to determine a local preference.

Let’s look at a few other recent public surveys to put this into perspective. Over 500 residents responded to the Highway 9 LCI study in Alpharetta and Milton. Approximately 400 responded to the survey for the Envision Main Street project.

Making changes to a few miles of Main Street is slightly less involved than bringing heavy rail to Windward. It’s probably on the magnitude of one one-thousandth the size actually. Yet Alpharetta managed to get more than double the number of respondents to their little study.

It’s laughable. MARTA representatives are willing to claim their have found the preference of north Fulton by talking to 136 people? Or was the decision preordained?

The study will hold only one additional public meeting before asking MARTA’s board for final approval. I’ll bet you a fist full of MARTA tokens that this meeting is scheduled during a weekday when typical working stiffs can’t come. Maybe it’ll be in the friendly confines of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce. That’s where the only Connect 400 meeting in Alpharetta was held.

I’ve not seen an independent, scientific poll on heavy rail preferences in north Fulton. My guess is that support for the project would be pretty evenly split. It’s a polarizing issue. It’s also an important one. That’s why it’s irresponsible to present such a poorly executed study like Connect 400. MARTA’s board should reject the study and insist on a deeper and more exhaustive survey.

And regardless of your opinion of heavy rail in north Fulton, be sure to ask your local city and county officials what they think. Municipal elections are coming. Candidates squirm when asked about MARTA heavy rail. It’s fun to watch.

Envision Main Street

Alpharetta will host two design meetings with the public to discuss its Main Street. The focus is on the road from Old Milton to Windward Parkways and other transportation issues. Both sessions will be held at the Devore House, 34 Church Street, from 5 until 9 pm. The first session is tomorrow, March 13. The second is Tuesday March 26.

The sessions are designed to be a drop-in type of function so you need not plan to be there the entire time.

A consultant is likely to show a collection of drawings and photographs to measure likes and dislikes. I would encourage participants to think outside of these pictures as much as possible. Occasionally facilitators of programs like this employ the Delphi Technique in an attempt build consensus around a predetermined outcome.  If your idea isn’t being shown, say so!

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about Main Street. We’ve talked about the turn lanes at Old Milton, traffic flow, medians and the intersections at Mayfield and Vaughn. If you’ve voiced concern on any of these then I encourage you to show up at a design session. You can also visit a website set up for the project at envisionmainstreetalpharetta.com .

McGinnis Ferry exit on GA-400

Lawmakers at the Georgia House of Representatives made headlines last week by digging up this old idea. The thought of an exit on GA-400 at McGinnis Ferry Road isn’t a new idea. It’s been kicked around by folks like the North Fulton CID and Forsyth County for several years now. Forsyth paid for a justification project to be performed on the exit a few years back. Now it seems that the Georgia DOT has approved the report, taking the project a small step forward.

The justification for this project is clear. This is an economic development project. The fact that the North Fulton CID has hands in it should make that abundantly clear. The exit will do little to alleviate traffic problems. It might actually do more harm than good. No, this project is designed to benefit the owners of large undeveloped land at McGinnis Ferry, Union Hill and the stalled Taubman Mall project.

We’ve talked a lot about how east-west commuting sucks in the northern burbs. McGinnis Ferry is an artery moving people from Gwinnett to north Fulton. Yet somehow it remains a two-lane thoroughfare for most of its distance. Try taking McGinnis Ferry eastbound at rush hour. It’ll jam up in several places. Thankfully the road is four lanes once you hit GA-141.

Adding a ramp from GA-400 may have the detrimental effect of putting more cars on a small country road. Try widening McGinnis Ferry to four lanes all the way to Milton, then let’s talk about adding an exit.

And then there’s the stalled Taubman Mall at Union Hill Road. Haven’t we spent enough tax dollars creating infrastructure improvements for this? Forsyth County built a road and added a lot of sewer capacity to attract this promised upscale mall.  Yet a mall in south Forsyth is still a pipe dream. The only thing we have to show for it is more apartments. Gee, thanks.

Transportation planners should focus on projects that alleviate real traffic problems. This project isn’t one of them. I thought these guys wanted to regain public trust following T-SPLOST’s defeat? Moving this project forward won’t do it.

What to do with Rucker Road?

What would you do about Rucker Road?

It’s a question the city of Alpharetta is kicking around. A few weeks back Council talked the issue over in a work session. They’ve since created three public forums for input. The first was last week. The second is tomorrow night at the Crabapple Government Center. A third meeting is February 26th at City Hall.

An intersection improvement idea along Rucker Road

I like that the city comes in with no preconceived ideas at these meetings. There are no powerpoints, no fancy storyboards and apparently no secret agenda being pushed. It’s a sincere effort to measure the input of the residents. That’s refreshing for a change.

And the general consensus after the first meeting seems to be that Rucker Road should not be widened.

There are a handful of small to medium sized neighborhoods along Rucker as well as some churches. The residents don’t feel safe on the road. Forget walking along it. And turning left out of a subdivision during rush hour is fraught with danger.

Also remember that this part of Alpharetta will see more and more new neighborhoods. Developers want to build homes on small 15,000 square foot lots all over the northwest portion of the city. The applications are stacking up at City Hall.

So I don’t blame the local residents for trying to keep this road from getting any bigger.

But on the flip side, east/west traffic flow is a problem. It’s true of the entire northern stretch of metro Atlanta. It’s a huge problem in north Fulton. There is no easy way to commute from Milton and Cherokee to the technology centers in Alpharetta. Widening Rucker Road would help with this.

It would also help get cars to and from the Crabapple area. This gastronome would love to dine in Crabapple more often but it’s the devil to get there at times. Then again, planners in Crabapple don’t seem to want me and my car in their mixed-use oasis.

So what’s the solution for little Rucker Road? I see good arguments on both sides. If I had to guess I’d say that new turn lanes and better walking paths are in Rucker’s future. But Alpharetta and Milton cannot ignore the east/west traffic flow problem forever.

If you’re a resident of this part of the city I’d encourage you to participate in the process and attend a meeting. I’d also encourage you to stay plugged in to the rezoning cases in northwest Alpharetta. They’re not gonna go away.

Changing downtown Alpharetta’s traffic flow

Downtown Alpharetta sees a ton of traffic from those commuting from Milton and Cherokee County. Their goal is to ultimately get onto GA-400 southbound. They drive Main Street southbound then shift over to Haynes Bridge. They get to Haynes Bridge by jumping a block east on either Academy or Old Milton.

But the new year will bring two big changes to these traffic flows in downtown Alpharetta. How will commuters adapt to the changes?

The first is the realignment of Haynes Bridge Road between Academy and Old Milton. The road is narrowed from a divided four lanes to two and a roundabout has been installed. The road also shifted to the east  to allow for a contiguous city center project.

The second change is the intersection improvement at Main Street and Old Milton. An additional turn lane was added for soundbound drivers wishing to turn left onto eastbound Old Milton. Landscaped medians and granite curbs were also added.

Jonathan Copsey wrote an interesting article on this topic last week in the Revue and News. It seems that commuters are not using the second, left-most turn lane. The destination of most traffic here is to go south on Haynes Bridge. So turning onto the left lanes of Old Milton isn’t desirable. The result is that traffic is stacking in only one turn lane, backing up onto Main Street. The fact that Haynes Bridge was closed no doubt exacerbated this problem.

Commuters will not likely want to travel the new stretch of Haynes Bridge Road. It is a little out of the way now and the traffic calming efforts are designed to discourage heavy traffic flow. If drivers choose Old Milton then the turn-lane stacking problem may continue, blocking Main Street.

The city would love for commuters to bypass downtown entirely by using the recently completed Westside Parkway. But is that a viable alternative for those driving from the northwest?

How about bypassing Main Street using Canton and Roswell Streets? Or will drivers cut over to Haynes Bridge using Devore Road? Both of these options would put commuters on residential streets.

How do you think commuters will respond to changes in downtown’s streets? Will they work or will they be a catastrophe? Or will drivers find creative alternatives that spread traffic around?

Northwinds Parkway extension

Today I’ll provide a glimpse into the process and players involved in the creation of a new transportation project in Alpharetta. I’ll try to not interject my personal opinion into the story and just present facts as I see them. It seems that whenever I draw conclusions in matters before the city, particularly those from the business community, I’m labeled as incorrect or worse – a conspiracy theorist. My readers are smart folks. I’ll leave the dot connecting to you.


View Northwinds Parkway Extension in a larger map

Tonight Alpharetta’s City Council will consider a new road project – the extension of Northwinds Parkway. Northwinds currently runs parallel to GA400 to the west. It starts at Haynes Bridge, running north through office buildings and past the Devry campus. It ends at Kimball Bridge. The extension would add about a half mile and carry the road to Old Milton Parkway.

This road extension is not of high priority to the city of Alpharetta. It is not found in planning documents such as the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Its extension was not included in any LCI studies nor was it ever a project to be considered for T-SPLOST funding.

The road was mentioned in 2007 during a rezoning of the Parkway 400 project on Old Milton. The developer asked to significantly increase the office density of the area, building three eight-story buildings. The city asked him to build the Northwinds extension and he refused, saying “we do not NEED this new road.” The traffic studies didn’t reflect a need for it either, even with the high density. The zoning was withdrawn.

North American Properties frontman Mark Toro mentioned the Northwinds extension during an Avalon presentation this year. The road would end at the main entrance to Avalon, carrying drivers right to the main drag into the development.

It’s worth mentioning that Avalon’s traffic study showed fewer car trips than the much more intense Prospect Park development. But Avalon’s traffic study did not require nor even considered the creation of the Northwinds Parkway extension.

It’s also worth mentioning that NAP owns 25 acres of raw land to the south of Old Milton Parkway. They have not publicly announced their intentions with this land. The proposed extension of Northwinds would add a four-lane road to the west boundary of this property.

The North Fulton Community Improvement District hired a consultant to study the Northwinds extension. Tonight it is the Georgia DOT that’s making the grant to help build the road. The city did not apply for nor did they request the grant money which amounts to a half million dollars of Georgia taxpayer funds.

Brandon Beach is the Executive Director of the NFCID. He is also a Georgia DOT board member. North American Properties contributed $2,000 to Beach’s most recent political campaign for State Senate.

So how will Council react tonight? Conventional wisdom says they will certainly take a new road, not looking a gift horse in the mouth. Then again, it isn’t apparent where this money comes from or what other projects may go unfunded as a result.

On the other hand, Mayor David Belle Isle made news years ago when he, then a mere Council member, opposed on principle receiving federal stimulus money for projects in Alpharetta. Some accused him of political grandstanding ahead of his own State Senate campaign. Stimulus money funded several projects in Alpharetta including energy improvement grants and two projects on Kimball Bridge Road. A good case could be made that these projects were far more important than the extension of Northwinds Parkway.

So there you have it. DOT money is directed to unwanted and unneeded road projects at the benefit of cronies. And we wonder why there is no trust in transportation leaders. Oops, did I interject my own opinions? My bad. I welcome yours.

Alpharetta’s City Council opposes T-SPLOST

“Do you support the T-SPLOST referendum?” It was a simple question I posed individually to each of Alpharetta’s council members. The answers surprised me.

City Council T-SPLOST Votes

Elected Official T-SPLOST Vote
David Belle Isle No *
Donald Mitchell No
Mike Kennedy No
Chris Owens Didn't Answer
Jim Gilvin No
Michael Cross No
DC Aiken No

* Chris Owens didn’t respond to two emails asking the question. Mayor Belle Isle also didn’t respond but came out against T-SPLOST during his campaign last year.

The overwhelming opposition from Alpharetta’s elected officials underscores how unpopular and undesirable this initiative truly is. Remember that Alpharetta has always been considered a pro-business city. Two councilmen, Michael Cross and Chris Owens, have Chamber of Commerce ties. Yet even with the Chamber’s strong endorsement of T-SPLOST, council members are lining up against it.

Also remember that several local road projects within Alpharetta would receive funding form T-SPLOST. Councilmen Cross and Owens served together on a committee that drafted the early project list for T-SPLOST in north Fulton. That close involvement wasn’t enough to win Cross’ vote.

“The amount of funds being devoted to mass transit troubles me, especially since the state still has not fixed the transit governance problem,” Cross told me. I wholeheartedly agree.

If you run into Chris Owens between now and July 31st, ask him how he’ll vote.

HOT Lanes on GA 400

Let’s get ready to rumble!

Have you seen the white signs all over town? Dozens of them have cropped up in north Fulton and Forsyth along GA 400 off-ramps and elsewhere. They advertise a public meeting in Roswell concerning GA 400. No other real details are available on the sign. And very little has been published in the local media at this point in time.

So what does the Georgia DOT have in mind for GA 400? They’ve lit the fuse on what will surely become a firestorm of controversy in this area. They are proposing HOT lanes on GA 400… like the ones on I-85 in Gwinnett County. GDOT is considering these lanes starting in Cumming at the GA-20 interchange all the way down to I-285.

I won’t go into a lot of detail in this post except to say that I haven’t personally decided if I like these or not. All I know is that these will be very controversial, perhaps more so than the HOT lanes along the I-85 corridor. The jury is still out on their success in Gwinnett. On top of that GA 400 commuters have lingering bitterness over the extension of the fifty cent toll. Tacking on more tolls (albeit optional ones) are not likely to sit well with north Fulton and Forsyth commuters.

But we’ll have a lot of time to work through all of these issues. In the meantime, visit the DOT’s GA 400 HOT lane website or attend one of the three public meetings listed below.

March 13, 2012
The Cottage School
700 Grimes Bridge Rd.
Roswell, GA 30075

March 15, 2012
Piney Grove Middle School
8135 Majors Rd.
Cumming, GA 30041

March 20, 2012
First Baptist Church Sandy Springs
650 Mount Vernon Hwy. NE
Sandy Springs, GA 30328

MARTA’s GA-400 Meeting – January 26

It’s MARTA! Looks like they’ve quietly started planning for another meeting to discuss bringing high-capacity transit up the GA-400 corridor. They’ve got a study area defined as the highway from Sandy Springs to the Forsyth County line and a mile on either side. Oh and there’s also a consultant. Yay consultants.

The first kickoff meeting is Thursday January 26th, 6:30 pm at the Fulton County North Service Center, 7741 Roswell Road, Atlanta, Ga. 30350. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make this due to a prior commitment. The language on the MARTA webpage suggests that more meetings may be coming.

If you’re an opponent of transit expansion in Alpharetta like I am, then you should consider going to a meeting. And if you’re a politician who campaigned against MARTA (like say David Belle Isle or Jimmy Gilvin) then I’d certainly expect to see you working against this.

Here’s some links for your clicking pleasure:

An article in the Revue & News, the only mention I’ve seen thus far in the press.

MARTA’s webpage on the project:
http://www.itsmarta.com/north-line-400-corr.aspx

MARTA’s Facebook page on the project:
https://www.facebook.com/Connect400

 

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