Developing new rail and bus transit in Atlanta region – a long-term play

By Saba Long

At the opening ceremony for the Atlanta Streetcar, Central Atlanta Progress head honcho A.J. Robinson bluntly addressed the project’s naysayers.

He plainly remarked, “We didn’t build it for you, or for me, for that matter.”

I’m a transit-riding Millenial who chose to live in the city center long before public officials and downtown boosters lobbied the public and the federal government to support the first spur of the Atlanta Streetcar.  So, in some respects, this project and the other transit expansions we are already familiar with – the BeltLine or the Clifton Corridor – aren’t for me either.

Why? These projects have been on the books for decades and are still inching forward to reality. The sole transit project built for today’s Millenials is MARTA – a system constructed 35 years ago.

Atlanta Millenials ought to thank former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, then-Congressman Andrew Young and other thought leaders who were less risk-adverse and had the foresight to make our current rail system a reality.

Transportation is all about the long game. Shovel-ready transit lines are heavy lifts – often opening two or more years after groundbreaking. To be sure, I will regularly ride the Streetcar and will gladly hop aboard the three MARTA expansion projects once they become a reality.

But they have hardly impacted my choice to continue living in the metro Atlanta region. If I opt for another city, its existing regional transit network will guide that decision, not the promise for future expansion.

Until policy makers move from a transportation funding down-tempo to double-time; when my 12-year old niece begins touring Atlanta-area colleges, there is a clear possibility the region will not have celebrated another grand opening for a future transit spur.

Even Bus Rapid Transit, the acceptable transit mode for some right-leaning think-tanks, averages three years from renderings to revenue services.

The Atlanta region is behind a generation, maybe two, in building out its transit infrastructure. While it appears the General Assembly will include transit funding in a comprehensive transportation-funding bill, the Atlanta area’s transit projects are underfunded to the tune of more than $4 billion, and that’s a conservative figure.

New transportation technologies are on the horizon. They could receive widespread approval years before transit projects studied more than a decade ago receive government funding. We could soon see self-driving cars riding alongside Xpress buses headed to the city center.

Look no further than ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft’s swift disruption of the taxi industry to see how luxury on-demand services like Bridj could challenge our existing public bus transit experiences.

This year is set to be a transportation infrastructure game changer for the state and the Atlanta region.

The next election is of little consequence when the decisions made today will impact those who are still in grammar school today.

Note to readers: In the interest of full disclosure, Saba Long is a communications and political professional who provides external and internal communications strategy for MARTA and other organizations.

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.

6 replies
  1. MatureMillennial says:

    Because you are writing from the perspective of a young Millennial, it is understandable that you say Atlanta’s progressive future, the next election, and this year’s decisions are of no consequence to you. But for those of us born in the early years of the Millennial generation or on the cusp of Generation Y, who are at the peak of our careers and have families and have invested in property and homes in Atlanta, these decisions are important and do have an impact as to whether or not we remain in Atlanta. We want to raise our children in a place where progressive transportation and climate policies are in their future, and where the lessons we teach them as toddlers by riding Atlanta’s current transit stay with them and grow as Atlanta’s infrastructure grows and policies progress. So, before you speak for the entire Millennial generation, remember that 20 years separates the spectrum of this generation, and while today’s decisions and advances may not be for you as a young Millennial, they are for your future children and the families that have rooted themselves here, but may have every opportunity to leave if the winds do not begin to change in Atlanta.Report

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  2. writes_of_weigh says:

    Remember – Amtrak has been in the Atlanta “transit” game since 1979. In addition to inter-city services it operates, it contracts (with legislative prejudice)with transit entities, as well, with nationwide authority, in the operation of regional and commuter operations, elsewhere.  In Georgia, Norfolk Southern predecessor, Southern Railway(and Central of Georgia) both “joined” Amtrak in order to “manipulate” commuter, regional and inter-city services, over much of Georgia’s rail infrastructure. Funding transportation/transit in the state of Georgia is “reportedly” a “problem”. Inviting Norfolk Southern and Amtrak to a transportation “conference” which could actually be held aboard either of the railroads “track inspection” cars(Amtrak’s American View or Norfolk Southern’s Buena Vista) along with Gov. Deal, GDOT’s Golden, NS’s Moorman and Friedman, while actually reviewing “live” the state’s rail infrastructure, would probably, in short order, lead to a financially viable solution to the state’s “transit” problem. For levity, as both Amtrak and Norfolk Southern have transportation operational “issues” which have precipitated a review and redress from SCOTUS(the Supreme Court), perhaps DOJ could provide a “facilitator” on board, to keep those who might tend to stray from the complete and damnable truth about the transit conundrum being “faced”/discussed……to remain…..”on track”…..so to speak……Report

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  3. Carl Holt says:

    I think we were ahead in building a heavy rail transit in the 70’s. No other Sunbelt city can boast a subway system like MARTA except San Francisco. The issue is funding and no expansion since 2000. All new systems are light rail and cannot compare to the speed and capacity of heavy rail.Report

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