Atlanta must fix transportation to claim status of well-rounded, lively city

Posted:

There has been a great deal of talk about the Metro Atlanta’s seemingly aimless and senseless inter-county rapid transit plan.

Although MARTA is the ninth largest rapid transit system in the U.S. and operates 48 miles of heavy rail train with 38 stations which serve 482,500 riders a day, it’s not enough to make Atlanta a world-class city. Think about this. Could a person ride public transportation from Kennesaw State University to the Gwinnett Arena? Both are within our region, along major interstates, and in two of Metro Atlanta’s core counties; the answer is “yes,” you can take public transportation, but you would have to switch buses, switch systems, buy two types of tokens, get on a train, and then walk a few blocks. In fact, it would take less time to fly from Hartsfield-Jackson to La Guardia.

This is unacceptable if Atlanta wants to claim status as a well-rounded and lively city where all its visitors and citizens can travel around town relatively quickly and efficiently.

On July 31, citizens in the 10-county metro region will have a chance to end this mass transit turmoil. In Metro Atlanta, we have MARTA, Cobb Transit, Clayton Transit, Gwinnett Transit and a number of other agencies including GRTA buses.

Each has a different fare system, the routes don’t connect and operators do not talk.

Not only does it limit travel from KSU to the Gwinnett Arena, but it keeps people in downtown Roswell from taking a bus along Highway 140 to Marietta. Right now, the bus travels to the Cobb County line and turns around or takes employees along Ga. 141 in Johns Creek to their homes, neighborhoods in Duluth or to the new city of Peachtree Corners.

These are just a few of the transportation nightmares that occur because of the disjointed public transportation “system” in and around Atlanta.

The Regional Transportation Referendum with its multiple public transportation expansion projects will help make public transportation flow better. Discussions about bus and rail transportation are often contentious, but necessary. The transportation system needs overhaul to improve the quality of life in the metro area.

In Atlanta, MARTA is the primary transit operator. Let’s take a look at its history. In 1965 the Georgia General Assembly approved the MARTA Act which then-Gov. Jimmy Carter signed into law. After the authority to operate it was established, it needed funds. In 1971 the voters of Fulton and DeKalb Counties approved one percent sales tax to fund MARTA operations and capital projects. Other counties lagged and/or declined to participate. As the city and outlying areas grew, the lack of transportation for counties adjacent to Fulton became apparent.

MARTA expanded into North Fulton in 2000. That year, the Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, and North Springs stations opened. They also added bus services all the way to Windward Parkway and along many of the major thoroughfares. The Regional Transportation Referendum will fund the engineering that will help secure the federal funds needed to bring MARTA up to Holcomb Bridge Road. It will connect MARTA rail with the Atlanta Streetcar and the BeltLine. Finally, it will extend the MARTA Gold Line along Clifton Road to Emory University.

These are long overdue expansions. Your vote for the referendum will help to end complaints about poor service.

This year Rep. Mike Jacobs and Rep. Lynne Riley, who serve on the MARTA Oversight Committee have proposed some changes to the MARTA Act that will begin to solve some of the problems. The bill is HB 1052. It passed on the floor of the House recently and now heads to the Senate.

The first change would reconstitute the MARTA Board. The Fulton Commission currently gets three appointments to the 12-member board — two from north of Atlanta and one from south of Atlanta. HB 1052 would change that and allow the two North Fulton appointments to be made by a caucus of North Fulton mayors.

The other change will allow MARTA to contract and operate bus and rail systems in other counties as long as they do not own the system. This is a first step towards regional transit governance. With the Senate’s approval, some important steps would be taken to bring some order to the area’s transportation systems.