Griffin Mayor Dick Morrow, who also serves as chairman of G-SATC, said the county has not fulfilled Gov. Sonny Perdue’s conditions to support commuter rail, despite all the meetings and petitions.
Jud Turner, a former official with Perdue and part of the delegation, said as part of the governor’s announcement in support of commuter rail, there were certain conditions. Perdue does not object to public investment in infrastructure but he wanted a business plan with performance metrics like ridership and economic development. If these conditions are met, the governor will be more inclined to ensure money for the rail line are budgeted and the federal money intended to get the project started are protected.
Morrow said he did not initially appreciate the governor’s concerns with numbers.
“If we’re going to put together a business plan to justify this, we need to do it right,” he said.
Turner said Perdue is a good steward of taxpayer money.
“I think we can do this,” he said. “I think we can make the case.”
He said there are many examples of good commuter rail systems in the United States.
Knight listed three important requirements. The first is realistic capital budgeting. He said previous budget requests were extremely short and lacked sufficient detail.
Another requirement is a partnership with Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA). He said GRTA has a good record with its express buses.
The third requirement is the overall business model, particularly realistic maintenance and operation costs. Knight said estimates for the costs after fares range from $5 million to $13 million.
“You’re obligating the taxpayers far into the future,” Knight warned.
He said the success of the Atlanta-Griffin pilot project will determine the future of commuter rail in Georgia. He said the recent departure of the Ford plant reduced the amount of freight on local rails and made it easier to set up a commuter line, then challenged local leaders to contribute money to have “skin in the game.”
Frank Harris suggested the proposed line be called the Macon-Atlanta line, in order to get political allies in Bibb County. John Izard, another part of Knight’s delegation, said there are people from the Macon area who are part of his organization to promote building the rail line.
Knight said the Atlanta-Griffin line was the pilot program. If it is successful, other lines could be built.
Griffin Commissioner Doug Hollberg said Griffin has been waiting for this for years. He said the county could put a $10 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on the ballot if necessary to pay for it.
“We are shrinking,” he said. “We need jobs, we need economic development.”
He said a downtown station will be the future of the community - without it, there is no future.