ATLANTA - Georgia officials planning commuter-rail lines connecting Atlanta with Athens and Macon should operate express buses along those routes or use existing freight-rail corridors rather than build extensive new rail lines beside major highways, the state's rail consultants suggested Thursday.
If the six-member board in charge of the state's passenger-rail program accepts those recommendations, it would reduce the number of options under consideration along each of the two routes from seven to four.
The rejection of new-rail construction along highway corridors by Georgia Rail Consultants is no surprise. The consultants released a report two months ago showing that running rail lines along Interstate 85 or Highway 316 from Athens to Atlanta, or along Interstate 75 between the capital and Macon would cost significantly more than either express buses or upgrading freight lines.
In the most extreme examples, an alignment using the I-85 and 316 corridors along the entire Athens-to-Atlanta route would cost $57 per year per rider, compared to $11.20 to $15.90 for the existing-rail options.
Using existing rail corridors between Atlanta and Macon would cost $15.00 or $16.60 per year per rider, vs. $147.20 annually per rider to build a new rail line along I-75, according to the consultants' projections.
Commuter-rail projects have been run along major highways in other parts of the country to give motorists easy access to trains. But that has proven cost effective only when both are built at the same time, not when the highways already exist.
"It would be ideal if we could start over and plan it all," said Sonny Deriso, chairman of the state's passenger-rail planning board. "But we're having to take a situation where so much is already in place and make the best of what we have."
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.