GRTA vs. MARTA, etc.: Transit funding confounds board

By David Pendered

The question of how to pay for transit remains a central stumbling block facing metro Atlanta leaders as they assemble a transportation package they can put on a ballot next year.

As the issue now is framed, the question is whether to pay up to $80 million into GRTA bus service by shifting money from the amount earmarked to help pay for other transit programs: MARTA; Atlanta’s BeltLine; and two future transit routes – one to Cumberland Mall and one toward Emory University.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed urged the Atlanta Region Transportation Roundtable to delay any decision. He called on members to deliberate the prospect of getting the state to pay into GRTA.

The state Legislature created GRTA in 1999 and has provided it with operating money just once – a one-time payment of $5.7 million that is keeping buses on the road this year. GRTA does receive money for its bus service from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program.

The roundtable considered the GRTA funding issue Thursday. Ultimately, the board voted to defer further public discussion until its meeting Oct. 11. A final list is due to be adopted by Oct. 13.

The roundtable did approve paying into a proposed commuter rail line toward Macon. Clayton County Chairman Eldrin Bell prevailed in his request to cut $20 million from the planned upgrade to Tara Boulevard and put it toward the commuter rail project. Construction costs would be about $362 million, according to Clayton’s estimate.

The roundtable made short work of disposing of other amendments proposed to its draft list of transportation projects. The planned $6.14 billion program would be paid for with revenues from a 1 percent transportation sales tax referendum that will be on the ballot next year in the 10-county metro area.

Here are highlights of the amendments considered Thursday. Amendment No. 1 was approved last week and shifted $6.4 million from the Hood Avenue Connector to the MacDuff Parkway Extension. The Hood Avenue project will be paid for with Fayette County sales tax revenues.

Click here to read the details of each amendment:

  • Tabled: Amendment No. 2: A $350 million proposal from Clayton County to build a commuter rail line toward Macon with money cut from unspecified projects.
  • Rejected: Amendment No. 3: A $5 million proposal from Rockdale County to extend Parker Road with money cut from the Cumberland Mall transit line.
  • Rejected: Amendment No. 4: A $10 million proposal from Rockdale County to expand the scope of work at Sigman Road with money cut from the Cumberland Mall transit line.
  • Approved: Amendment No. 5: A $271 proposal from Cobb County to shift money from the Cumberland Mall transit line to pay for road improvements along Windy Hill and Roswell roads, and to provide bus service from the Town Center at Cobb area, near Acworth.
  • Approved: Amendment No. 6: A $20 million plan from Clayton County to continue work on a commuter rail system with money cut from upgrades planned to Tara Boulevard.
  • Tabled: Amendment No. 7: An $83 million plan from DeKalb County to provide more money for a transit line along I-20 but cutting $33 million from the upgrade of the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange, and $50 million from the proposed transit line toward Emory University.
  • Approved: Amendment No. 8: A $3.5 million plan from Fulton County to improve Butner Road, and a bridge over Camp Creek Parkway, with money cut from upgrades to Fulton Industrial Boulevard south of Camp Creek Parkway.
  • Tabled: Amendment No. 9: A $34.5 million plan by Douglas County to maintain GRTA bus service with money cut from a MARTA program of good repair.
  • Tabled: Amendment No. 10: An $80 million plan from Henry County to maintain GRTA bus service with money cut from the BeltLine and two transit lines – Cumberland Mall and Emory University.
  • Approved: Amendment No. 11: A $10 million plan from Fulton County to widen Hammond Road with money cut from the collector/distributor system along Ga. 400.

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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