$8 Billion Expansion of Atlanta Transit Clears First Hurdle

This dream map of Atlanta transit is looking more and more possible. Map: Jason Lathbury via Curbed

This dream map of Atlanta transit is looking more and more possible. Map: Jason Lathbury via Curbed

Atlanta’s regional transit network, MARTA, isn’t known as a dynamic, growing system. While cities as varied as D.C., Minneapolis, and Houston have rolled out new high-capacity transit routes, MARTA has stagnated.

But has MARTA’s moment finally come? The prospects of major transit improvements for the region are looking more hopeful today than they have for a generation.

Last week a Georgia Senate committee passed a bill that would allow Fulton, Dekalb, and Clayton counties to levy a half-cent sales tax for transit over the next 40 years. The measure, if approved by voters, would generate $8 billion in capital funding to expand MARTA.

The above map from Curbed Atlanta shows what might be on the table in an $8 billion MARTA expansion. All of the specifics still need to be negotiated.

It could include extending the Red Line with commuter rail up Georgia 400 to Alpharetta, or extending light rail to the northeast side of the city, serving Emory University and the CDC. The measure could also fund a rail line along the city’s circular Beltline, Curbed reports, or extend rail or bus rapid transit eastward, as far as Conyers.

Meanwhile, a series of public opinion polls shows that Atlanta area voters, even suburban ones, are coming around to idea of expanding MARTA. In fact, many polls show they strongly favor it.

According to a poll commissioned by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Atlanta area voters of all stripes support greater transit investment to ease congestion.

According to a poll commissioned by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Atlanta area voters of all stripes support greater transit investment to reduce traffic.

“We’re seeing a really interesting demographic shift in popularity around transit,” Candler Vinson of CNU’s Atlanta chapter told Streetsblog.

Vinson says one caveat is that suburban voters do not favor the proposal if it doesn’t include commuter rail.

Before it can be put to voters, the sales tax measure has to make it through both houses of the state legislature in Georgia’s “Gold Dome,” which has been notoriously hostile to transit. There is currently no bill in the Georgia House.

The measure has the backing of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. And a new advocacy group Advance Atlanta has been leading efforts to promote its passage in the statehouse.

One encouraging sign, says Vinson, is that Senate bill sponsor Brandon Beach is a Republican from suburban Alpharetta. Vinson said he expects a vote on the issue from the full Senate in the next week or two.

Copy corrected February 25 at 9:20 a.m. Originally referred to Beltline as Beltway “Gold Dome” as “Golden Dome.”