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Atlanta transit expansion could be in peril thanks to federal cuts

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Nearly $3 billion worth of federal funding expected for Atlanta could vanish with new budget proposal

A MARTA train arriving at a crowded platform at Five Points Station.
MARTA expansion could be impacted by the new federal budget.

Public transit has become a go-to resource for many metro Atlantans in the wake of the Interstate 85 bridge collapse (and subsequent roadway calamities that have followed in dishearteningly rapid succession).

The interstate issues over the last few weeks have even been used as a rallying cry for public transit expansion in the city, legitimizing the vote for MARTA expansion last year and renewing interest from other municipalities and state legislators who haven’t always been so transit-friendly.

However, Washington D.C. could soon stand in the way of progress.

According to the AJC, the recently released draft of the federal budget for next year shows drastic cuts and limitations to the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts Program. Funds from the program were expect to go toward several planned MARTA rail extensions, Cobb County BRT service into the city, and streetcar expansions, but plans could be derailed.

Now, the current administration is indicating that funds not already allocated—that is, cash for transit improvements that aren’t in progress—will not be released for new projects. Unfortunately, none of Atlanta’s projects have received funding yet.

Overall, the cuts for the U.S. Department of Transportation total $2.4 billion, which represents a staggering 13 percent reduction in funding for the organization.

While transit proponents lament the fallout of the actions, many Republican leaders are hailing the move as vital to maintaining accountability when it comes to funds allocation.

Of course, nothing is set in stone until Congress actually approves a budget; a lot could change between now and then.

Whatever the outcome, MARTA is fortunate to have secured a “yes” vote last November, which will allow some projects to move forward—albeit possibly a little more slowly than anticipated.

Below are some of the new “fixed guideway” transit projects the Atlanta Regional Commission believed would qualify for federal New Starts cash, per the AJC:

  • MARTA expansions along the Clifton Corridor, I-20, and Ga. Highway 400.
  • A Cobb bus rapid transit line to the MARTA Arts Center station.
  • A high-capacity transit line connecting MARTA’s East Point station to Jonesboro and Lovejoy in Clayton County.
  • Five Atlanta Streetcar expansions, including Beltline extensions from Montgomery Ferry Road to Glenwood Avenue and from Midtown corridor to the MARTA south rail line
  • Trump budget could jeopardize metro Atlanta transit expansion [AJC; subscriber]