Now what? Silver Comet Trail advocates prep for work on new extension

Cyclist on the Silver Comet Trail in article about Silver Comet Trail reopenCyclist on the Silver Comet Trail (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

After years of advocacy through petitions, meetings and t-shirt drives, it’s time for Silver Comet Trail advocates to celebrate. Land has been acquired to extend the trail to the Chattahoochee River, with plans in the works for a connection to the Atlanta Beltline.

“I’ve been working on this for over 10 years, so I feel like it’s mission accomplished,” said Connect the Comet member Roberta Cook. “It’s almost unreal because I’ve been working on it for so long. I don’t think it has really sunk in yet.”

Connect the Comet will be holding a celebration at Vinings Bank on Oct. 28, with attendees encouraged to bike to the event while sporting the group’s bright yellow t-shirts.

“We’ll probably bring some trail mix to share with people,” Cook said. “Just to make it fun.”


Construction of the Silver Comet Trail extension

In some ways, the hard work is finished. In other ways, it’s just beginning. The actual process of financing, designing and constructing the extension now gets underway. The project will involve a lot of tough engineering work and coordination between various agencies to get moving.

“The next part is the nitty-gritty,” said Cobb County DOT Planning Division Manager Eric Meyer Eric Meyer. “We have to do a survey, design and engineer the project and set plans, which will consume probably the next six to nine months. CSX has not removed tracks from the corridor just yet, there’s a federal process to take that step.”

Cobb DOT is expected to partner with the PATH Foundation, which built most of the existing Silver Comet Trail, to construct the initial 2.3-mile extension on the Cobb side of the Chattahoochee.

How much will it cost?

Early estimates have the project coming in at a cost of roughly $10 million, though PATH Foundation founder McBrayer hopes it will be cheaper, with construction beginning sometime in the second half of 2019 and potentially ending as early as 2021. The 4.3-mile extension planned in Fulton County that will theoretically connect to the Atlanta Beltline is further behind in development.

As a registered 501(c)(3) the PATH Foundation can solicit donations from private businesses and individuals as a tax write-off to help finance the new trail. He’s led PATH since 1991 and brings plenty of experience to the table.

“We’ve met with Cobb DOT several times,” said McBrayer. “We’re going to build a partnership to build the trail out all the way down to the (Chattahoochee) river.”

Extension in two major sections

The Cobb extension will be built in two major sections. The first is taking it from the current dead end near the East-West Connector to Plant Atkinson Road. This will be the easy part as it’s a direct rails-to-trails conversion that could take as little as four or five months once construction begins.

The second, more difficult part, will be an extension from that point to Atlanta Road and the river itself. As CSX is maintaining use of some rails east of Plant Atkinson Road, the trail will leave the train tracks, which means there will be right of way acquisition involved, according to Meyer. Then there’s the matter of ancillary portions of the trail.

“One piece of the puzzle is where additional trailheads and places to park might be added,” Meyer said. “There may be new connections to some of the neighborhoods or other developments along the route. That’ll be something folks need to think about, and that’s usually where public and private landowners weigh in.”

Connect the Comet, which delivered a petition to the governor’s office last year, is expected to remain involved as well. McBrayer said the group will serve as a “public outreach mechanism” for the extension, meeting with homeowners in the area to get input from the public.

There’s still a long way to go, but advocates are ready now that the most difficult step of land acquisition is largely out of the way.

“Our goal is to bring it all the way into the city,” said McBrayer. “We see this as a great opportunity to get the Silver Comet into the city of Atlanta so everybody doesn’t have to go drive to Mavell Road first.”