SUWANEE -- As a Winder resident who works in Duluth, Randall Parker often wonders why he can't ride a train to work. And if a proposed passenger train is approved and funded, Parker could one day travel by train to a family farm near Charlotte, N.C.
Parker was one of dozens of local residents, economic development representatives and engineering consultants to attend a public presentation by Georgia Department of Transportation officials in Suwanee on Tuesday. The meeting opened a 30-day period in which residents can comment on the scoping study. Once that closes, GDOT will evaluate the public comments and develop a preferred alternative path also based on cost and ridership analysis, spokeswoman Natalie Dale said.
By 2015, GDOT would end the environmental process portion of the project, and if funding is agreed upon, passengers could ride the first train in 2025, Dale said. The cost is about $5 million. A federal grant would cover 80 percent of the cost, and the state would be responsible for 20 percent, Dale said.
The project is designed to serve the people who the project will affect. That's why public input is solicited, she said.
The six initial route alternatives start in Atlanta, but extend to cities such as Augusta, Lawrenceville, Suwanee, Athens, Gainesville and Toccoa, then into South Carolina by the state's cities of Columbia, Anderson, Clemson before stopping in Charlotte.
The proposed service would be an extension of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor that is under development between Charlotte and Washington.
The scoping process would address connectivity to proposed and existing passenger rail stations, airports and other transportation services along the corridor. The project will consider connectivity to the proposed Georgia Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the proposed Charlotte Gateway Station and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
Ron Thomas visited the meeting from Athens. Thomas is the chair of the Athens-Clarke County Oconee River Greenway Commission, which promotes use of bikes and trains. Thomas said he's a former planning director in Chicago and would like to see that same kind of regional transportation system in the Southeast. His preference would have the train travel through Athens.
"I think just because of Athens being the major state university, having that connected with the capital is a no-brainer," he said. "Increasing traffic from the whole region to Athens for any number of reasons."
Parker, who grew up in Washington, said high-speed rail is a really good alternative to flying short distances.
The project is designed to offer residents more transportation options, Dale said, and added benefits could include economic development and job creation along the route.
"I wouldn't necessarily say that high-speed rail specifically is a priorty of the state," she said, referrng to other innovative options around the state. "To see how you can piece together a big picture for easing congestion, better environment, giving people more choices."