by Kevin Walsh
Earlier this year Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed S.B. 369, which is a landmark bill empowering the City of Atlanta to hold a fall ballot referendum to support a half-penny sales tax to expand the MARTA system. On June 6, 2016 the Atlanta City Council voted unanimously to include a menu of MARTA transit improvement projects that will appear on the November 8, 2016 ballot referendum. If approved by Atlanta voters, the half-penny sales tax levy could raise an estimated $2.5 billion over the next 40-years. Among the projects that could be built if the referendum passes is a light-rail line to connect areas of southwest Atlanta, a transit station at Greenbrier Mall, on-demand circulators that operate in neighborhoods, in-fill stations, additional fixed bus routes and other enhancements and expansion initiatives that would link to the Atlanta Beltline as well as MARTA’s existing bus and rail network.
On Friday September 2, 2016 I had the privilege of hearing Robert L. Ashe, III, chairmen of the MARTA Board of Directors speak at the breakfast meeting for the Council for Quality Growth. According to Mr. Ashe, MARTA’s objective is to provide the best service that it can to the City of Atlanta and the 3-counties that are currently part of MARTA’s system, Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton. MARTA has gone from operating deficits to a surplus and is currently in the process of purchasing new articulated buses and train cars and cleaning up train stations. As to the future, MARTA wants to expand light-rail service to under served areas of Atlanta, but unlike some other cities that are served with light rail service MARTA wants its transit cars to run in their own dedicated right-of-way instead of clogging streets. For those of us who are not familiar with the difference between light rail service and heavy rail service, Mr. Ashe explained that light rail service receives its power from overhead whereas the more familiar heavy rail service receives its power from an electrified third rail.
MARTA is the ninth largest transit system in the U.S. and its estimated economic impact to Georgia’s economy is over $2.2 billion annually. It is estimated that without MARTA that annual traffic delays would increase over 8,500 hours creating an additional $185 million in congestion costs to Georgia’s economy. We shall soon see what happens with the upcoming referendum, but in the mean time it is good to hear that Atlanta is once again growing and MARTA is working to meet Atlanta’s transportation needs.
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