My colleague, State Rep. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), wrote an outstanding op-ed column that ran in this past Sunday’s AJC.
It’s a little-known fact that I ride MARTA to work every so often, on days that I don’t have to take my kids to preschool or otherwise need to use my car. The short trip from either the Chamblee or Brookhaven station, near my home, to the Arts Center station, near my office, is very convenient and usually quicker than I-85.
MARTA cannot be sustained in the long-run on the backs of DeKalb and Fulton County taxpayers. Besides, the time is overdue to think about seamless comprehensive transit solutions that can operate across the entire Metro Atlanta region.
The upcoming debate for the 2010 legislative session over a transportation funding plan presents a rare and tremendous opportunity to explore these issues and remake MARTA.
I’m with Fran Millar on this one. With his permission, I am reprinting the unedited copy of his column that he sent to our colleagues in the State House. I’d like to hear what you think…
“For the past few years I have watched the frustration build with my neighbors and the metropolitan business community (ten counties) on the failure of our state government to deal with our transportation issues in a comprehensive manner.
To compound the problem we have now been told by Georgia State University that MARTA will probably be short $85 million in sales tax receipts for fiscal 2010 and over the next decade could be short $1.4 billion. In other words MARTA can not be financially viable in the long run with only Fulton and DeKalb as its source of primary funding.
2010 is an election year and politically it is imperative that the General Assembly give the public an opportunity to vote on a comprehensive transportation solution. In my opinion a regional approach with a sales tax component has the best chance of acceptance by the public. I know of no other statewide approach that has passed in recent years.
In 2009 we passed SB 200 which created a Planning Division in the Department of Transportation (DOT). The purpose of the Planning Division is to be responsible for planning and transportation (not just highways) policy in Georgia.
It is my intention in 2010 to add to SB 200 or any other approach a Public Transportation division under DOT with the director of that division also being appointed by the Governor. This director can be responsible for operating public transportation agencies in Georgia including MARTA.
At the same time, I plan to introduce local legislation in DeKalb and have one of my fellow members in Fulton do likewise to repeal the current MARTA Act.
Obviously there are details that need to be worked out with the state assuming the assets and liabilities of MARTA. Priority issues include operations and federal funding. Hopefully, in the not too distant future other transit systems such as Cobb and Gwinnett and agencies such as Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority can be incorporated into this comprehensive approach.
Any comprehensive transportation solution voted on by the people requires a two-thirds vote by the House of Representatives and the Senate in order for the initiative to be placed on the ballot.
Local legislation requires a majority of the county representatives and the county senators to sign the bill and a majority vote in each chamber.
This is our one chance to get away from a Department of Highways and have a meaningful Department of Transportation. With this new MARTA financial data, any reasonable person must conclude that Fulton and DeKalb can no longer carry this burden alone. I would hope Fulton and DeKalb representatives and senators would agree with me and insist that MARTA be folded into any comprehensive transit solution.
Furthermore, per Georgia State University, metro Atlanta (ten counties) generates 53 percent of the state income and receives 37 percent of the state’s spending. If metro Atlanta’s physical infrastructure can not allow further growth and/or our competitive position deteriorates, then the balance of our state will not continue to receive this additional funding over what they collect.
This alone should be the necessary incentive for non-metro legislators to support the creation of this public transportation division under DOT and a regional transportation solution with a sales tax component.
No great city in our country (New York, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco) relies only on highways. We either seize the initiative now or in the not too distant future explain to our children why Atlanta is no longer the Capitol of the South. Remember when we were the financial headquarters of the South?
I urge you to contact your representatives and senators and voice your support for this approach. The time to act is now.”
Representative Fran Millar