Atlanta’s MARTA rail (left) hasn’t expanded much since the 1980s. On the right, D.C.’s Metrorail, which has grown substantially. Credit: MARTA, Greater Greater Washington
We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Atlanta. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis, Seattle, and Detroit.
Back in the 1970s, both Atlanta and Washington, D.C., received federal grants to build rail networks. After finishing the first wave of Metro construction, D.C. continued to invest, creating one of the country’s best high-capacity urban transit networks. But in Atlanta, MARTA’s rail lines pretty much cover the same ground as in the 1980s.
Unreliable bus service is a huge problem too. The FX show “Atlanta,” as Grist pointed out this week, depicts the struggles facing Atlantans who rely on transit, especially in suburban areas where trains don’t reach.
Proposed rail expansions and infill stations for Atlanta. Map: MARTA
The Atlanta region has had some opportunities to improve transit recently, but the political stars never aligned. That could change next month, when city voters weigh in on two issues:
- A MARTA expansion, funded by a half-cent sales tax increase that will raise $2.5 billion over 40 years.
- A “TSPLOST” measure that would raise the sales tax by .4 percent for five years, generating $300 million for complete streets and the “Beltline” — the rail-plus-trail project that encircles the city’s central neighborhoods.
The MARTA measure would pay for major bus service upgrades and up to 30 miles of light rail expansion. The City Council has selected a menu of transit improvements that will be eligible for funds, but the tax revenue won’t be able to pay for all of them.
One improvement that will certainly receive funding involves doubling service frequency on major bus routes from every 30 minutes to every 15.
Also eligible for funds: building light rail along the Beltline; seven miles of bus rapid transit with exclusive lanes, level boarding, and off-board fare collection; five enhanced bus routes with 10-minute headways and limited stops; and up to 17 infill rail stations.