A route through Cartersville for a high-speed passenger rail connection between Atlanta and Chattanooga is expected to be locked in before the end of the month.
If it’s built, travelers would be able to get from one metropolitan area to the other in approximately 88 minutes.
The Federal Rail Administration is in a waiting period through Oct. 23 after tentatively announcing the selection following a year of studying three potential corridors. One would have included a western spur through Floyd County; the other would have jogged east through Gordon and Whitfield counties.
Once the Record of Decision is finalized, a Tier 2 environmental study could begin on the approximately 1,000-foot-wide corridor to start zeroing in on a specific alignment and station locations. That phase of the project also would include identifying a preferred technology: Steel-wheeled cars on a steel rail or maglev cars propelled by magnetic levitation along a guideway.
“Future study of the high-speed ground transportation between Atlanta and Chattanooga will be dependent on available funding, which has not yet been identified,” the announcement notes.
The preferred alternative is the Interstate 75 Corridor, which would start near Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport and roughly follow I-75 north to Interstate 24 in Tennessee. Stops are tentatively planned at the airport, downtown Atlanta, Cumberland Galleria, Town Center, Cartersville, Dalton, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport and downtown Chattanooga.
While the I-75/Rome Corridor would have boosted potential ridership by an estimated 1,500 people a day, the Georgia Department of Transportation study found it would lengthen the trip by about 15 minutes and increase the cost by more than $1 billion.
The eastern corridor, labeled “worst-performing,” would have added another $1 billion to the I-75/Rome Corridor cost while serving an estimated 8,556 people. That’s compared to 11,725 a day on the preferred route and 13,204 through Floyd County.
A public comment period netted a few suggestions that GDOT and FRA consider a hybrid route to better serve Rome. However, most favored the I-75 Corridor “due to the minimal environmental impacts and direct route,” according to the report.
The Floyd County route would have required 35 stream-crossings, compared to 21 for the preferred route. Just 53 percent of the line would have been within an existing transportation corridor, compared to 76 percent if it continues up through Cartersville.