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Parents Dropping Off Kids At School The Next Frontier In Central Perimeter Traffic Battles

Local school systems are partially to blame for Central Perimeter's notorious rush hour congestion, the mayors of three of the area's cities say. Their issue isn't with getting stuck behind those long, yellow buses, but rather the crush of parents driving their own children to school.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul

"Every day we have the same number of cars for car pool … that go on a Sunday to a Falcons game,” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said.

Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal said congestion in the Central Perimeter area picks up by 18% during the lead-up times to school in the morning. That puts both school buses and carpooling parents on the road at the same time as commuters coming into Central Perimeter to work, Shortal said.

“The fact is we got to work with our schools,” Shortal said.

Shortal and Paul were on a Bisnow panel discussing the future of transportation in Central Perimeter, along with Brookhaven Mayor John Arthur Ernst Jr. and Jacob Vallo, MARTA's senior director of transit-oriented development and real estate. The group also discussed how cities are striving to insulate Central Perimeter residential neighborhoods from new, dense, urban developments and a slate of new transit programs, including a future bus rapid transit system along Interstate 285.

Ernst said DeKalb County's No. 1 transportation organization is its school system, suggesting schools could offer flexible start times to spread out the congestion.

“I think the next wave of civic conversation's going to be with the school system,” he said.

MARTA Senior Director of Transit-Oriented Development Jacob Vallo, Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, Brookhaven Mayor John Arthur Ernst Jr. and Corgan Project Manager Robert Bielamowicz

The submarket's future economic growth could be dampened if congestion grows worse. In the past few years, Central Perimeter has seen strong corporate growth, including becoming home to the under-development State Farm campus as well as Mercedes-Benz's North America's corporate headquarters.

With that growth has come an explosion in the number of workers commuting to the area. In 2011, 100,000 people commuted into the submarket daily. By 2016, that number had risen to 253,000, the according to the Perimeter Community Improvement District. Those numbers do not distinguish what mode of transportation workers take, but thousands of cars have been added to some major Central Perimeter arteries.

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, some 49,000 vehicles a day use Ashford-Dunwoody Road, one of the main arteries in Central Perimeter. Some 59,000 vehicles a day drive along Abernathy Road.

More than 200,000 vehicles a day drive along Interstate 285 and Georgia 400 each, according to GDOT.

KDC Regional Vice President Alex Chambers talks about State Farm and MARTA ridership along with Crown Holdings co-founder Blair Schlossberg, Perimeter Community Improvement District Executive Director Ann Hanlon and Trammell Crow principal Brandon Houston

Trammell Crow principal Brandon Houston called the State Farm campus the new corporate center of Central Perimeter, with other dense mixed-use projects sprouting up around it.

PCID Executive Director Ann Hanlon said there are 12 other big projects planned or underway in and around the new State Farm campus at the Dunwoody MARTA station. All of that density is being focused around MARTA's transit stations in Central Perimeter.

“The community is becoming more dense, but it's doing densification around the right areas,” Houston said. “Now all of a sudden, Central Perimeter has some of the same elements of walkability and transit that Buckhead has.”

Despite Central Perimeter being home to four MARTA stations, many of the commuters into the submarket do not live in areas where the subway system is easily accessible, Paul said. Without other transit solutions — including plans for a bus rapid transit system that would involve Central Perimeter — the submarket's traffic may lead to companies going elsewhere.

“People aren't going to do that forever,” Paul said. "If that workforce comes in disgruntled and unhappy ... These companies can leave this area just as fast as they come here."