No more delays – let’s fund MARTA expansion this year

By Saba Long

“Delay, delay, delay.”

That was presidential candidate Donald J. Trump’s response to President Barack Obama’s forthcoming nomination of a Supreme Court Justice to replace conservative Antonin Scalia.

Transit skeptics in Fulton County and at the state legislature are using the same tactic to shortchange a long overdue MARTA expansion. Their arguments include, “We need more info” and “Transit doesn’t reduce traffic.” When challenged by transit supporters, some have resorted to name-calling.

Brandon Beach

State Senator Brandon Beach

Given their behavior you’d think MARTA’s pitch is new news. Metro leaders adopted the agency’s three high-capacity transit projects in 2008 as part of Concept 3, a comprehensive, regional transit plan. The projects were again up for public discussion leading up to the ill-fated 2012 transportation referendum. From feasibility to environmental impact, they have been vetted by state and federal agencies and that process continues to date.

MARTA’s last rail expansion – to North Springs station – was a heavy lift at the time. Yet it has undoubtedly led to the explosive development of the Perimeter area. Go to the parking decks at these northern rail stations and you’ll note they are consistently full – on weekdays and on game days. Residents of Milton, Johns Creek and Alpharetta already use public transit.

MARTA expansion

Planned expansion for MARTA if it is able to secure new funding (Source: MARTA)

In “Urbanphobia: A Growing Threat to Public Transit in America,” Alan Ehrenhaft, a senior editor of Governing, a magazine for state and local leaders, wrote of the ideological warfare between transit allies and conservatives. The author included Nashville, Salt Lake City and metro Atlanta as examples.

“The lesson from all these recent skirmishes seems to be that the anti-transit coalition can be a potent force in a community where a significant cadre of opposition already exists, based on specific local grievances,” Ehrenhaft wrote. “Then Americans for Prosperity can come in and stir up the critics; Tea Party activists can work the grassroots; and the AgEnders [Agenda 21 opponents] can rally their troops with frightening visions of urbanist apocalypse.”

See, this isn’t about the MARTA of today. It’s about the MARTA of tomorrow and the Atlanta region of the future. In his state of the city address, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed proclaimed Atlanta would be “first to the future.” The state’s capital city can’t get there without a first class public transit system.

State Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) and Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul and others have pitched MARTA as the way to attract “millennials.” It is.

MARTA train

MARTA, which hasn’t had a major expansion plan in decades, would like a 40-year, half-penny sales tax in Fulton and DeKalb counties. (credit Wikipedia)

To counter, others have argued we “millennials” will embrace automobiles once we marry and have children. While this is a plausible argument, the transit naysayers are forgetting a key point: There’s a generation behind the millennials, and if we are any indication, they will reject a single occupancy vehicle at a greater rate than my generation.

We have paid dearly for the proverbial sins of the generations before who chose to put fear over progress and division over unity when they rejected what should have been a five-county transit system in 1971.

Transit supporters should find a way to fund MARTA expansion this year.

It’s time to stop today’s politicians from delaying our region’s progress and potential. No more delays.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

24 replies
  1. Brian Coulter says:

    Effect on car traffic is completely beside the point of transit. It’s about reducing overall commute times, by giving at least some people an option to bypass the traffic completely.Report

    Reply
  2. Tim Langan says:

    It will keep traffic from getting worse. It will help concentrate some future development at the Marta stations (instead of spreading it out). The lots will absolutely fill every day for people heading south, since more & more development is concentrating at the existing stations. Marta got their act together, now it’s time to let the voters decide on expansion.Report

    Reply
  3. Tom Alfred says:

    Religious freedom bills are intended to solve Atlanta’s traffic nightmare. Reduced convention and sporting events and businesses refusing to locate or leaving Georgia… no jobs equals no traffic.Report

    Reply
  4. Tom Weatherly says:

    If they would simply make the trains half as long and run them twice as often I am convinced they could grow ridership, build goodwillI, raise the money required to hire the additional conductors and remove cars from the road in the process. If I am not mistaken they can do this without asking those knuckleheads under the gold doom for anything. I have never waited more than 5-7 minutes for a train in NY, Chicago, DC, London or Paris…just saying.Report

    Reply
  5. Janet Lovell Phillips says:

    Atlanta is never going to be major international city is aspires to be without better transportation networks linking the whole metro region. The biggest dig at Atlanta in its international city debut when hosting the 1996 Olympics was the lack of a metro transportation center. Wake up Atlanta!!! Wake up Georgia!!!Report

    Reply
  6. Tom Weatherly says:

    That’s great if you live a traditional 9 to 5 life, but hasn’t the world moved on and anyway we need to get more people riding. We will get those by offering better service. Airlines and special events are not organized around a 5 day a week 9 and 5 schedule. New riders can be won with more timely service. I recently just missed a train leaving airport had to wait 20 minutes for next one. In addition it is a no brainier to double the fare to get on or off at the airport (airport workers would need to have a way to avoid this, but it would not be a problem for business travelers if frequency issue was also addresed). Hopefully this functionality is in the works with the new trans cards.Report

    Reply
  7. Neil Stapley says:

    10 mins off peak 20 on a Sunday how much frequency do you want. London underground doesn’t run to that frequency unless you are are at a station in zone that is served by multiple lines the overground trains run to a 20 minute schedule. Intercity trains around 20 mins depending on the destination, the Paris metro is horrible and has little to no investment for quite sometime. You also don’t mention that UK and France have nearly 200yrs of rail development not something you can scale up to in a few years and defiantly not cheap. Halving the trains to double the frequency would mean you would have to double the staff not to mention would the signaling be able to cope with it.Report

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  8. Tom Weatherly says:

    So I am not a transit consultant just operating on my own experience. Most recent, Thursday night leaving at airport 10 PM missed a train, next train arrived at 10:20 PM. Train was 8-12 cars long not crowded at all.Report

    Reply
  9. Burroughston Broch says:

    London Underground Victoria Line trains run at 1 minute 33 seconds intervals during peak periods.
    MARTA in comparison is very leisurely.Report

    Reply
  10. BradWhitcomb says:

    I like Marta.  The expansion would probably improve my commute and hopefully remove some cars from our clogged highways.  However I don’t understand how we can possibly afford it.  In Maria Saporta’s February 8 report she informs us that the cost will be $8 billion.  In exchange over the next 25 years it will create 45,000 jobs and generate $5 billion in economic activity.  If we are able to tax 1/2 cent on that entire $5 billion it will only generate $25 million (.005 * 25B) in tax revenue.  I am not an economist or an accountant so maybe i have this wrong but if my analysis is correct I see no way that the cost of this project makes sense under standard business terms.Report

    Reply
  11. TEAD says:

    Without an expanded (and ever expanding) mass transit system, Atlanta will slowly and painfully become a second class city (or worse).  when was the last time you made a visit to a world class city where mass transit WASN’T available?Report

    Reply

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