Nearly 75 people attended a public meeting in suburban Atlanta to gain information and to comment on six proposed routes for a high-speed rail line linking two of the South’s major economic centers.
One of the proposals would go through Augusta and Columbia. A different one would go through Athens.
Augusta didn’t send a delegation. It can still have input through written comments either mailed to the Georgia Department of Transportation or submitted online.
“At this point, there is no preferred route based on any one consideration,” said DOT Project Manager Derrick Cameron.
Officials said the Augusta-Columbia route is the longest and would have the slowest speeds due to the twists and turns, but it also links the largest population centers. Other routes have different combinations of strengths and weaknesses.
The meeting, held at a city building in Suwanee because it’s the site of a likely station, was the first of a series of meetings in three states during the early phases of planning the train line. Significant details such as the cost of construction and the price of a passenger ticket remain to be worked out, including which entity would actually own and run the railroad.
The biggest question, how to pay for it, will be left to the politicians sometime in 2015 after the $4 million study is completed.
Most of the people looking at the maps and asking questions were from metro Atlanta, but a vanload from Athens came to campaign for the city’s inclusion.
“We’re lobbying for a route that will connect Athens to the line,” said Doc Eldridge, president of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.
Jack Crowley, a University of Georgia professor who once served as Oklahoma’s transportation chief, said the train would benefit the college community.
“If Athens and the university are going to connect to the rest of the world, it’s got to connect to the airport,” he said.
Designers included the airports in Atlanta and Charlotte and proposed a stop at the Greenville-Spartanburg airport, as well.
The engineers and consultants at Tuesday’s meeting stressed that this step is a high-level evaluation using readily available information. The next phase would require on-site assessments, surveys and detailed analysis.
“It’s going to be revisited at least a couple more times before you build it,” said Andrew Smith, a member of the consulting firm HNTB Corporation conducting the study.