By Maria Saporta
U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-Atlanta) made one thing perfectly clear Friday evening — MARTA is near and dear to his heart.
Lewis was the honorary host of MARTA’s celebration of its 30th anniversary of providing rail transit in addition to buses. Lewis was interviewed by public affairs and policy consultant Jeff Dickerson about the past, present and future of transit in the region.
Lewis proclaimed his love for MARTA in the following ways:
“MARTA is a shining example of what can be done,” Lewis said. “We wouldn’t be the capital of the American South if we hadn’t had MARTA. We wouldn’t have gotten the Olympics.”
Lewis said transit has to be an essential part of creating a vibrant city.
“You can only build so many roads and highways. You need to get people out of their cars,” Lewis said. “If we fail to invest, if we fail to support MARTA, then we will not have a city where people can live.”
And Lewis said that if he were a dictator, “I would give everything that MARTA requested.”
Lewis was particularly complimentary of Beverly Scott, MARTA’s general manager, calling her “courageous,” and he then asked to himself: “How can I say no to her?”
But Lewis said it is critically important for MARTA to receive help from the state of Georgia.
“I think it’s so important for the state to show commitment and dedication to MARTA,” Lewis said, adding that the federal is watching what is happening in Georgia. “If the state can put up some money, it would send a strong message (to the federal government).”
The city of Atlanta and MARTA — along with Central Atlanta Progress and the Midtown Alliance — have applied for nearly $300 million in federal transportation funds to develop a streetcar between downtown and Midtown.
Lewis said he and the community are pushing hard for Atlanta’s case.
“We are committed to doing everything possible to get the necessary funding for the streetcar,” Lewis said. “We spoken to the Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. We have sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden. I’m committed to doing everything possible to make that happen.”
When LaHood came to Atlanta in September, he said that Georgia needs to get its act together if wants to receive federal funds, and that means providing a state match for those dollars.
“We have got to have a regional transportation,” Lewis said. “They need to see us working and pulling together. We must have a vision.”