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City of Atlanta Mulls Expanding MARTA Alone

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After legislative setback, could Atlanta self-fund itself to better transit?

Late last month, a bill that would have allowed metro Atlantans to self-tax themselves to fund transit expansion was crushed by the legislature. But before those opposed to transit could celebrate a victory, vocal advocates (who studies indicate form the majority) for the initiative began to explore alternative paths to funding. While frustrating, the lack of legislative support despite popular opinion isn't a new issue. So, old tactics are arising to combat it.

But let's hold our horses. In an interview with the AJC's Political Insider, Mayor Kasim Reed hinted that the bill to expand MARTA might not be entirely dead this year. The article also included this revelation:

  • Since the collapse of S.B. 330, the transit agency has sketched out a fallback position: A local bill that would call for a referendum to levy a half-penny sales tax in the City of Atlanta alone, which could be used to fund $2 billion or so in new transit projects.

Obviously, the saga this year is far from the first time the State of Georgia — and metro Atlantans — have been obstructionist when it comes to transit expansion. When the MARTA system was first envisioned, plans called for the inclusion of Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton counties. But for the MARTA system's first 40 years, only Fulton and DeKalb county residents voted to participate, resulting in the relatively bare-bones system we still live with today. And while Clayton residents voted to join the system, and even Gwinnett is making moves toward joining, a fully connected future for metro Atlanta is still a long ways off.

According to the AJC, the death of the bill this year was due to some legislators in the greater metropolitan area expressing concern that a more comprehensive study is needed. The new plan could be to break down the tax proposals into single municipalities. By allowing the City of Atlanta and DeKalb residents to vote individually on the half-penny sale tax, it seems likely that projects exclusively in those jurisdictions could be funded, including transit along the Clifton Road Corridor and east along Interstate 20.

The City of Atlanta has expressed support for the piecemeal approach, while DeKalb County still remains in limbo. As the legislative session drags on, things should become clearer in the next few weeks. If the initiatives do pan out, it may not be long before North Fulton is back on board to fund the expansion of Red Line rail service to Windward Parkway. Just don't hold your breath.