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ATL Outlook: Are Proposed Transit Expansions Enough to Keep Dallas at Bay?

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New plans have emerged showing possible MARTA expansions in the city, but it could be for naught

Earlier this year, legislators paved the way for the largest expansion of MARTA service in decades, with the passage of a bill allowing Atlanta citizens to vote on a new tax to support transit. While it could be the beginning of something great, some are beginning to worry the efforts are too little too late.

In the high-stakes game of staying relevant as a regional power, Atlanta has many things going for it: the world's busiest airport, a bevy of Fortune 500 companies, and a rather sunny outlook for growth. But other southern cities such as Charlotte, Nashville, Birmingham, and Dallas are often discussed as gaining on Atlanta as we struggle with choking traffic and limited public transit options.

The proposed half-penny tax would provide an estimated $2.5 billion for expansion of the transit system within the City of Atlanta. And two plans were recently unveiled that show options for new service routes MARTA is considering.

Ultimately, the plans will likely be tweaked following stakeholder meetings and closer collaboration with the City of Atlanta, but they offer an indication that infill stations on the existing rail lines, light rail in downtown and on the Beltline, and a few bus rapid transit lines are all on the table.

Despite the plans, leaders expressed fears to 11Alive that Atlanta was falling behind rival southern city Dallas. With more than 90 miles of track, that city's DART is the largest light rail system in the country. The system not only services the core of the city, but lines travel out to suburbs — Dallas's equivalent of Marietta or Tucker.

While many hope the referendum will make it to ballots on Nov. 8, it could potentially be delayed until 2017. But, clearly, time may be of the essence.