Transportation is always among the thorniest issues in the General Assembly. It’s one of the few issues where, in order to get anything done, the strongly-held and divergent views of urban, suburban, and rural legislators must be addressed, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats must be bridged. Otherwise, nothing is likely to pass.
So it’s no wonder that the passage of new transportation funding legislation – which finally happened during this year’s legislative session – was three years in the making.
House Bill 277 (click for information) is the bill that was passed. This transportation bill calls for the state to be divided into regions, with DeKalb County being part of the Metro Atlanta region. Each region’s county and city governments are represented on a roundtable that is responsible for coming up with a project list. That project list will be put out for a vote on the 2012 primary election ballot. If the referendum passes within any given region, a penny sales tax will be levied in that region to fund the projects on the list.
Projects that will directly benefit our community probably will be on the Metro Atlanta list. For example, I could see the reconfiguration of the perennial bottleneck at I-85 and GA 400 easily making the list. The Perimeter CID always tends to get projects on a list like this, as well.
What’s the downside? Although the transportation bill has the potential to be a big step forward, DeKalb and Fulton Counties already pay a one-cent sales tax for transportation: the MARTA tax.
That’s where the Transit Governance Study Commission becomes important. The language creating this commission is also part of the transportation bill. The commission held its first meeting on September 8, 2010. I originally proposed the Transit Governance Study Commission in House Bill 1252 (click for information) and then insisted that it be included in the transportation bill.
Its purpose is to figure out how to create a truly regional mass transit system that is seamless, that unifies the existing patchwork of county transit agencies in Metro Atlanta, and that folds MARTA into an entity which includes more than just DeKalb and Fulton Counties.
MARTA simply cannot be sustained in the long-run on the backs of DeKalb and Fulton taxpayers. MARTA is sometimes not the most well-managed organization (click for an article from today’s AJC), and its board of directors is a political fiefdom. On that last point, this year’s transportation bill pares back the MARTA board from 18 to 11 members, which is a good thing.
The Transit Governance Study Commission will not have to start from scratch. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) already has been exploring how to create a truly regional mass transit system (click for information about ARC’s efforts).
The creation of a seamless regional transit system ultimately will require legislative action. That’s where the study commission comes into the picture. It has been given the task of coming up with actual concrete legislation to make this a reality.
No great city in our country (New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco) relies only on highways. MARTA must be replaced with a system that is more regional in scope. Metro Atlanta’s future ability to attract major employers depends on it, because cities like Charlotte and Dallas are becoming serious about improving and expanding their own transit systems.
The Transit Governance Study Commission could become very positive for DeKalb taxpayers, too, because it has the potential to relieve us of the lonely burden of paying for MARTA.