Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Atlanta

The Promise of Expanding Atlanta Transit Inside the City Limits

It looked like the Atlanta region's ambitious transit plans might have been thwarted late last month when state lawmakers shot down a bill to allow Fulton, Clayton, and DeKalb counties to hold ballot measures potentially raising $8 billion to expand MARTA. But maybe that was a blessing in disguise.

Extending commuter rail to Alpharetta would have been very expensive. Image: MARTA via Curbed
Extending commuter rail to Alpharetta would be very expensive and divert resources from urban transit needs. Image: MARTA via Curbed
Extending commuter rail to Alpharetta would have been very expensive. Image: MARTA via Curbed

Transit expansion plans for Atlanta are moving ahead again in a new form. City leaders have decided to go it alone with a ballot measure that would put a city-only sales tax increase for transit expansion to Atlanta voters. The bill enabling the referendum overwhelmingly passed the House last week. If the Senate and Governor Nathan Deal approve it, and it musters a majority vote in November, the tax would raise about $2.5 billion for transit in Atlanta over 40 years.

Fulton County, which includes Atlanta's northern suburbs, may also get a chance to raise its own tax for transit. But here's why an Atlanta-only transit measure could be even better than a combined one.

To be politically viable in Fulton County, a transit tax would have to pay for commuter rail to suburban Alpharetta, 27 miles north of the city. That project would be very car-oriented -- picture park-and-ride lots serving a rail line running along Georgia 400 -- and very expensive: about $2.5 billion to construct, according to Curbed Atlanta.

Instead of building transit to serve sprawling suburbs, an Atlanta-only measure can focus on putting transit in the densest areas, where it can serve more people and support walkable development.

It's not clear which projects an Atlanta-only transit tax would support, but Mayor Kasim Reed has said the funding would go toward "a much larger light rail component," which, unlike the struggling Atlanta streetcar, would be separated from traffic. Those projects are likely to include rail along the Atlanta Beltline -- the ring of transit, trails, parks, and new development taking shape along defunct freight tracks encircling the city.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

When Victims Die More Than 30 Days After a Crash, They Don’t Count

Nearly a thousand people every year aren't included in federal crash death totals because they didn't succumb to their injuries quickly enough. What will it take to make them count?

June 24, 2024

Monday’s Headlines Get Money

President Biden's proposed budget includes billions for transit but even more billions for roads. How will Congress react?

June 24, 2024

Get to Know Your MPO: An Advocate’s Guide to Some of Our Most Critical Transportation Agencies

The Metropolitan Planning Organization can have an outsized influence on local transportation decisions. Here's what every advocate needs to know about how they operate — and how to win them over.

June 24, 2024

Federal Judge Sets Aside a Key Congestion Pricing Lawsuit

Gov. Hochul's rationale for killing congestion pricing took another blow on Thursday as a federal judge dismissed one of the major lawsuits against it.

June 21, 2024

Friday’s Headlines Are Supercommuting

Why are so many Americans schlepping to work for 2+ hours in a car these days?

June 21, 2024
See all posts