MARTA throws a wrench into opposition of transportation sales tax in south DeKalb County

By David Pendered

MARTA has raised the stakes for passage of the proposed transportation sales tax in DeKalb County.

MARTA’s board of directors did what the Atlanta Regional Roundtable could not muster the votes to do – approve a construction proposal that would create a unified transit system in south DeKalb that would include enhanced bus service along I-20, but more importantly extend heavy rail service from Indian Creek Station to the Mall at Stonecrest.

Talk about a political imbroglio for voters in south DeKalb, some of whom thought their region didn’t get enough from the proposed sales tax for transportation projects in the 10-county metro area.

Harold Buckley, Sr.

MARTA board treasurer Harold Buckley, Sr. submitted the motion with the new routes.

On one hand, the transportation sales tax would pay for the beginning of MARTA’s expansion in south DeKalb – an enhanced bus service, called bus rapid transit, along city streets and I-20 from Downtown Atlanta to Wesley Chapel Road, south of Decatur. Some critics, including the DeKalb chapter of the NAACP, have said this is not enough benefit to cause their region to pay 2 percent in sales tax for transportation – 1 percent for MARTA and 1 percent for the transportation sales tax.

On the other hand, there is no guarantee – none at all – that the heavy rail to Mall at Stonecrest will ever be built. There simply is no money in sight for construction. There’s just the promise that MARTA will seek federal funding for the line – money that would come from a Congress so knotted up over spending that some lawmakers contend the federal government has no role in paying for highways or transit.

The resolution endorsing these routes was submitted by MARTA board treasurer Harold Buckley, Sr., who’s represented DeKalb on the board since 1985. It passed overwhelmingly.

(See a MARTA map at the end of this story.)

Larry Johnson

DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson said he remains undecided about the merits of the sales tax for transportation, despite MARTA's actions.

DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson summed up the consternation he thinks his south DeKalb constituents face as a result of MARTA’s new plan. May has been a vocal critic of the sales tax because, he says, it shortchanges a region that has been promised heavy rail service for a long time and has paid the 1 percent MARTA sales tax since MARTA’s inception.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but we still have to obtain funding, which is in the amount of $2 billion,” Johnson said in a measured comment fter the MARTA board voted April 9 for the plan.

“The figures don’t even add up,” Johnson said. “This plan says BRT will cost $260 million. The sales tax plan says it will cost $225 million. They need to reconcile their figures.”

One carrot the MARTA board included is a promise to work with partners to consider possibly turning the bus route into a light rail service at some point in the future.

The specific language states:

“The MARTA board commits to working with our jurisdictional partners, such as DeKalb County, in a separate study effort, to develop supporting technical analysis to examine potential upgrades of the BRT component of this alternative to a higher capacity fixed guideway transit investment, including the necessary step to convert to a light rail technology that will be regionally adopted and integrated into the regional transit network.”

Click here to see the complete resolution.

The Atlanta Regional Roundtable supported a similar plan to expand service along I-20, once the viability of the route is determined through a BRT system that’s to receive $225 million through the sales tax.

Click here to see a larger version of the map.

MARTA's proposed service in Dekalb County. Credit: MARTA, David Pendered

MARTA's proposed service in Dekalb County. Credit: MARTA, David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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