In the aftermath of the I-85 bridge collapse, Speaker David Ralston is, once again, speaking on the need to devote more state resources to transit. In a letter sent to Governor Deal on Monday morning, Speaker Ralston wrote that MARTA and the Georgia Regional Transit Authority’s Xpress bus service are already seeing extraordinary increases in rider demand. More transit users will lead to more transit costs, something that agencies are not prepared for at the moment (which is not surprising considering that the Xpress bus is the only transit operation that receives dedicated state subsidies).
According to MARTA CEO Keith Parker, there was a 25 percent increase in riders on Friday. The AJC also reported that the stations were rather packed on Monday morning. Noting that these increases will affect the budgets of transit agencies, Ralston is calling for the agencies to “be made whole” by shifting state funds and leveraging federal dollars to pay for the rising costs. He has already assigned House Transportation Chair Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) and House Appropriations Chair Terry England (R-Auburn) to serve as liaisons to the governor’s office and is considering what the House can do in the 2018 legislative session to help.
Speaker Ralston puts in this teaser at the end of the letter:
The House of Representatives has a long and proud record of working to move our state forward. While this incident will have a short-term negative impact, it is possible we will find new ways forward, working in partnership with other stakeholders, to make long-term improvements to our transportation infrastructure.
It’s no secret that the Speaker wants more state involvement in solving Georgia’s systemic transit problems, not just ad-hoc funding for particular disasters like the I-85 collapse. SB 6 and HB 160 were two bills introduced in 2017 that would have created a regional transit commission to focus on long-term issues. Both were caught up in the squabbling between the House and the Senate, leading Ralston to push through HR 848, which establishes the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding, on Day 40. According to his letter, the Commission will “soon” begin working toward its goal of improving transit in the long term.