MARTA Chairman on Amended Expansion Bill

Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) is sponsoring a bill (SB 330) that would allow a referendum this year to allow MARTA to expand north on Georgia 400 from North Springs station to Windward Parkway.

After pushback from North Fulton residents opposed to shelling out more for rail transit that they say they would not use, Beach, MARTA and Fulton County mayors came up with a compromise that would allow Atlanta and other Fulton residents to pay different amounts for five years. They also tweaked the bill’s language to substitute “transit” for “rail,” in case a bus system is the final choice.

Beach and MARTA brought the compromise to the Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday. Beach repeated that the revenue is not an additional tax, but that it would be “flexed” out of the existing TSPLOST approved via HB 170 last year, with the MARTA portion extended for decades beyond the five-year TSPLOST to allow for bonding.

Robbie Ashe, president of the MARTA board of directors, explained the compromise before yesterday’s committee hearing at the Capitol.

Here’s what Ashe said:

“The proposal is that in Atlanta voters would be given the option go to point 5 cents for MARTA, .5 cents for a countywide TSPLOST. Outside of Atlanta in Fulton County, voters would have the opportunity to vote for .25 cents for MARTA and .75 cents for TSPLOST for five years, with the MARTA vote being a phase-in approach. After that five-year period that .25 cent for MARTA would step up to be .5 for the remaining duration of the half penny. The first five years residents in Atlanta and outside Atlanta would be levying different amounts for MARTA, but after that 5-year period everybody would be levying the same half-cent.

“The idea is that with a bunch of folks in North Fulton, but also in south Fulton, there is some interest in having more road money upfront but recognizing that MARTA needs longterm money — a significant amount of longterm money— to get to bonding capacity and to get the project delivered. So that for the first five years, which is all the TSPLOST is ever going to be anyway, at least in five-year periods, you front-load roads and bridges and whatnot at a 3 to 1 ratio. But you take the one vote now on MARTA on .25 for five years and .5 for the remaining balance in the areas outside Atlanta. That gives MARTA about 94 percent of the money that would have been raised had it been .5 all along. It does have some adverse financial consequences for us in terms of preventing us from being able to afford to pay for certain things in cash. We’ll have to bond earlier. Over the life of the bonds, over the life of the taxes, (it’s) probably a $390 million negative hit. But, that said, it is a whole lot better than nothing. Between the two, we would prefer .5. (all along for everyone) but if the phase-in is what gets everybody to the table and gets everybody comfortable then that’s certainly something we can make work.”

When asked about some residents’ preference for Bus Rapid Transit or express buses, Ashe said bus service would be provided right away.

“One of the things we have heard — and reacted to and clarified — is that we will be able to provide an enhanced level of bus service almost immediately. So that while the rail line is being constructed we will be able to do significant amounts of express bus and circulator bus service so that we can deliver an immediate transit connection. Frankly, one of the things it will also do is help acclimate folks to the idea of getting on (transit) at Windward Parkway and riding MARTA down instead of beating their heads against their steering wheels sitting in a single-passenger vehicle.”

However, the chairman was clear on his reference for rail over buses, and how important rail is for the area’s business portfolio. He said he sits in pitch meetings the Metro Chamber conducts for companies looking to locate in metro Atlanta. Corporations want to know about the breadth of the transit system. “Nobody,” he says, “asks where your closest bus stop is.”

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Jon Richards
Jon Richards

Is there an explanation for what this means:

Beach repeated that the revenue is not an additional tax, but that it would be “flexed” out of the existing TSPLOST approved via HB 170 last year.

It sure sounds to me like it’s a half penny sales tax, which is in addition to what is being taxed now. And given that (with the exception of some bonding authority) there’s no funding for transit, how is this “flexed out?”

Charlie
Charlie

I believe what he’s saying is that Fulton County voters are not being asked to approve a 1% SPLOST AND a .5% MARTA tax, but instead the proposed SPLOST will now have between 75 cents to 50 cents for roads and 25 cents to 50 cents for MARTA depending on the year of the tax. HB170 made local SPLOSTs easier largely because of the failure of TSPLOST in the Atlanta region. It was also made clear that the Billion per year raised by HB170 would not cover many local needs and that additional local revenues would be needed to fully… Read more »

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

I was ok on the first “I believe” but when repeated I began to loose faith. This is Beach speak.

Calypso
Calypso

Flexed out, vb., Political speak for “Don’t ask pertinent or detailed questions about how we’re going to get the money from you comrade, just pay it.”

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Maybe they are going to put flex-buses in north Fulton to replace the empty ones running around now. Check Beach’s contributors.

John Konop
John Konop

Salty, I have talked with Brandon about infrastructure needs many times especially about traffic. The fixes we need are not going to be solved with a silver bullet mentality, especially when truck traffic increases by 60 percent in metro Atlanta once the port is complete. We need many solutions beyond just roads, from rail commercial/passenger, promote home employment, work with traffic flow via government workers…….Sen. Beach is driven on this issue from our conversations by being confronted with many large employers saying fix it or we cannot expand here or we will leave ie jobs, jobs…. Also by tax payers… Read more »

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Empty words. Business owners with high salaried employees in Fulton have rebutted my list of Cherokee positives with one answer, their employees will not want to drive our back roads to work. We do attract a few businesses that use low skilled workers, but we really head in the direction of a bedroom county. And that is exactly where Beach wants us. The BOC has told me as I send pics of wrecks and congestion in the Hickory Flat, ECD, lower B’ham, Batesville, Arnold Mill, 140 area that if we attract business into Cherokee – their number one priority –… Read more »

Charlie
Charlie

I totally am lost on what you are trying to say here. Would you care to reframe/rephrase?

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Two lane congested roads and numerous developments with hundreds of homes underway, more planned, ,impact fees either reduced or not applicable and nothing material in the road plans is nuts.

Or was it the first priority is creating jobs locally and then we won’t have to worry about the connecting roads into Fulton being so busy ?

An aerial photo of the cleared areas and traffic backups and a map of planned rezonings will say it all.