Dispute in Smyrna City Council Over Public Transit Study

There was only one non-unanimous vote during the Smyrna City Council’s Monday night meeting and, as might be expected in metro Atlanta, it was over traffic.

The council approved a motion 4-2 to submit an application to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) seeking funding through the Federal Highway Administration for a Smyrna transit analysis and feasibility study.

Mayor Max Bacon was absent from the meeting and Ward 3 council representative Teri Anulewicz presided over the meeting in his absence. That left council members Corky Welch, Susan Wilkinson, Andrea Blustein, Derek Norton, Doug Stoner and Ron Fennel to vote.

According to documents provided by the city, the purpose of the analysis/study is to conduct an updated analysis of transit needs in Smyrna. The analysis will take into consideration transit services already provided and seek to identify where those and other transit services can be established, enhanced or improved.

The study’s conductors will also seek out public input, perform stakeholder interviews and form focus groups and a steering committee. Other tasks include developing alternatives, transit criteria and evaluating costs, benefits and impacts. The Federal Highway Administration will pay $400,000 of a $500,000 total cost, with Smyrna footing a 20 percent match of $100,000.

When Smyrna’s Community Development Director Ken Suddreth took questions from the council, Welch asked if the study might find the city should start its own bus service rather than expanding options through agencies like CobbLinc, GRTA or MARTA. Suddreth answered that he did not know what the study would find, but he said it was doubtful it would recommend a bus service run by the city.

Image from CobbLinc

After asking a second question, Welch made it known he was opposed to the study.

“If this was looking at CobbLinc to determine new stops and more stops that they need to make, I may have a different look at it,” said Welch, who represents Ward 4. “But the initiative is to look at CobbLinc and/or additional services, to tie on to MARTA, and I just do not believe it’s a good use of taxpayer money from the citizens of Ward 4 or the city as a whole. I think it’s a waste of money and I don’t support it.”

Following Welch’s comments, Ward 5 representative Susan Wilkinson joined in to say she was also opposed.

“I have also spoken with a number of county staff members and have found that they’re willing to work with the city on ideas within the city from the current system that we already have,” said Wilkinson “I feel like there are areas where we need to work with the county in terms of improving some of of the bus lines… I feel that to start going out on our own is going to be a cost to the taxpayers of Smyrna. We all are citizens of the county and I feel like we should be working with the county on these ideas. So I will not support this.”

Welch and Wilkinson serve the two westernmost portions of the city. But Blustein and Norton, representing the easternmost parts of Smyrna, quickly voiced their support for the study.

“The number one concern I hear in Ward 1, and throughout the city, is that we’re being choked by traffic,” said Norton, whose district is directly adjacent to recently opened SunTrust Park. “I think we would be missing a huge opportunity if we didn’t look at this and approve this opportunity to at least look at the options that are out there for us.”

“Anything that could improve the traffic situation on Spring Road would be a Godsend ,” added Blustein. “Right now traffic is backed up on Saturday mornings from as far as I can see in one direction and all the way down to Village Parkway in the other direction. This may not be the answer, but at least it would give us some more information to work with.”

When it came to a vote, Wilkinson and Welch were the only two voting council members opposed.

Also during the meeting, Tammi Saddler Jones was sworn in as the interim city administrator by Chief Judge Phyllis Gingrey Collins. Jones takes over for former city administrator Mike Jones, who was hired in January 2016.