Atlanta Gets an Ambitious New Transit Plan

(Photo by dbking)

A bill that could expand transit and unify the county-by-county patchwork that makes up Atlanta’s transportation grid passed the General Assembly last week.

HB 930, the so-called “transit expansion bill,” now awaits a signature from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who has endorsed the measure according to the AJC.

The final version of the bill allows the 13 counties around Atlanta to impose sales taxes of up to 1 percent for mass transit. Fulton County (where 90 percent of the city is located) already has a .75 percent tax for road and bridge construction and a 1 percent MARTA tax, so it would be limited to a smaller increase of .2 percent. The legislation also creates a regional board — which would have the final say over which project lists counties submit to voters — to oversee transit funding and construction. Finally, it allows Gwinnett County to hold another vote on joining MARTA this year (although the county has twice rejected proposals to join) and authorizes a special transit district in Cobb County to ask voters for approval of a transit expansion.

The state plans to add $100 million in bonds for transit expansion under a 2019 budget that already passed the General Assembly, the AJC reports. Those funds, combined with the bill’s allotted taxes, could “spark the biggest transit expansion in metro Atlanta since MARTA finished its existing passenger rail system in 2000,” according to the paper.

Curbed points out, however, that the bill simply allows — but doesn’t mandate — each county to impose taxes or join up with systems like MARTA.

It “provides flexibility and autonomy for member counties, who must ‘opt in’ to any specific project or funding mechanism,” a release from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) states.

As Next City has covered, the (historically whiter and wealthier) suburbs around Atlanta have long resisted joining transit systems like MARTA. In 1987, the New York Times reported that bumper stickers often seen on suburban Cobb County cars declared “Share Atlanta Crime — Support MARTA.”

In 2014, however, residents of Clayton County voted to tax themselves to join the regional transit agency. And as traffic worsens, voters in Gwinnett County have warmed to alternative transportation as well, according to the AJC.

“Traffic congestion doesn’t stop at the city or county line. It’s a regional problem that requires a regional solution,” Rep. Kevin Tanner, House sponsor of the Bill, said in a statement. “Improving regional transit is also important for economic development, as many businesses are choosing to locate in places served by public transit.”

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