MARTA Can Help Manage Atlanta Expansion

Disclosure/Note: I served as the Communications Director for the MORE MARTA outreach committee, which held more than 100 public information sessions across the city of Atlanta, explaining the process and the implications of MARTA’s proposed 1/2 cent sales tax. The following is from MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe.

In “Field of Dreams,” a farmer is haunted by the whispered phrase “If you build it, they will come.” In Atlanta, though, planners and leaders hear: “They’re here – have you built it yet?”

Atlanta has been ranked as the number one city people are moving to (according to CNN Money) for four consecutive years. We’re projected to add 2.5 million net new residents by 2040. Atlanta is booming at growth rates faster than pre-recession levels, housing starts are up, businesses are relocating –and bringing jobs with them. All of this is good news. But these new Atlantans are going to need to be able to get to and from their new jobs, and they’re going to need transportation options. MARTA must be one of those options.

This November, voters in the City of Atlanta are being asked to approve a ½-cent sales tax to expand and enhance MARTA service inside the City of Atlanta. These enhancements include improved bus services, including bus rapid transit, express service, circulator buses, and dedicated lanes, but also expanded rail service, improved access to transit stations and even multi-use paths and sidewalks.

MARTA’s goal is to build a transit system that serves the short term, intermediate, and long term needs of the population of a city that’s threatening to burst at the seams, and we need multiple modes of transportation to do this.

A half-cent may not sound like much, but it will generate $2.5 billion (in today’s dollars) over the next 40 years. That revenue, with federal matching funds, will help Atlanta compete with other regions like Charlotte, Dallas, and Denver, all of whom have been busy recently expanding their transit networks, particularly with light rail.

From 1979 through 1999, MARTA built just over 47 miles of rail. Since then? Not an inch. But between 1996 (when the Olympics left Atlanta) and 2014 (just two summers ago) Dallas built and put into service more than 90 miles of rail.

While Atlanta has won some fantastic corporate relocations (State Farm, Mercedes, NCR, and Anthem to name just a few) it’s the ones we don’t hear about that worry me. A company looking to relocate will assess the transportation options available to their employees. When Dallas has nearly double Atlanta’s rail miles, they offer more transportation options than we do, and our entire region starts out with a strike against us. We’re just not as competitive.

As a native Atlantan, I appreciate this opportunity as a generational moment in the history of our city. We’ve done a good job maintaining the system we already have. But we are overdue to plan for and accommodate the expansion of Atlanta that has already begun. This sales tax may only be a half-cent, but it’s a full measure of MARTA’s commitment to making that happen.

Robert Ashe was appointed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council to serve on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). He was elected by his colleagues to serve as the Chairman of the Board for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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