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Transit summit of Atlanta’s northern suburbs seen as ‘breakthrough moment’

By Maria Saporta

Forty years ago, voters in Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton counties said “no” to MARTA — and that led to the rail transit system being built in only two counties — Fulton and DeKalb.

Fast forward to 2011. On Wednesday morning, leaders in Cobb, Gwinnett and Fulton held a summit to encourage the development of a regional transit system — especially in the north metro area.

The Metro Atlanta Northern Crescent Transit Summit is the outgrowth of a growing partnership between the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce, the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce as well as government leaders in those jurisdictions.

“This is about jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Brandon Beach, president of the North Fulton Chamber who also serves on the board of the Georgia Department of Transportation. “It’s time for us to have transit in the suburbs. It’s not just inside the loop anymore. We can not just have a two-county transit system.”

Leaders in Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett then unveiled part of their transit vision — which they are calling the “W.”

A transit line would run along the Northwest corridor from the Kennesaw area down to the Arts Center MARTA station. Another leg would go along the I-285 corridor. A third leg would extend the existing MARTA rail line up the 400 corridor. And the fourth leg would extend rail transit up the northeast corridor into Gwinnett County.

Possible Atlanta transit corridors would form a 'W'

The “W” would be developed in phases, but it would be part of an overall regional vision for transit — serving areas that have become much more urban in the four decades when the chose not to be part of the MARTA system.

Now voters will have a second chance. In 2012, they will have an opportunity to vote for a regional one penny transportation sales tax in the 10-county metro area.

But the significance of these northern jurisdictions having a half-day summit on transit was noted by several people in attendance.

Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, called the summit “unprecedented” and “ground-breaking.”

Leithead noted that having leaders in Cobb, North Fulton and Gwinnett “talking about transit wouldn’t have happened” until recently.

In an interview, MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott couldn’t hide her excitement.

“This is a breakthrough moment,” Scott said. “It’s absolutely wonderful. We are seeing how we can connect the region. We are thinking outside our geographic boundaries.”

Later, Scott addressed the entire summit audience.

“This is one of the most exciting meetings I’ve been to in the past three-and-a-half years,” Scott said, but added that it will be particularly import to “get rid of the restriction of the MARTA Act.”

She also referred to the fact that the bill as written will not allow any of the new revenues pay for MARTA’s operating costs — a restriction that does not apply to any of the 119 transit agencies in the state.

“We can’t have differential treatment on the biggest transit system in our region,” Scott said. “We’ve got to get rid of the old stuff and move forward together.”

Mike Bodker, mayor of Johns Creek in Fulton County, said the region needs to sell transit as improving the quality of life for everyone — those who would ride transit and those who would want others to ride transit so there would be less traffic.

Bodker also mentioned the potential economic development impact of having transit.

“We have to get real in our conversation with transit. For transit to be successful, you have to have land use policies to go with it.” Bodker said, adding that those land use policies would have to permit greater density along transit corridors.

Bodker also said that most of the mayors in Fulton and DeKalb counties are seeking assurances that the new tax revenue would be fair to MARTA’s jurisdictions.

Some mayors, who have been paying the MARTA tax, don’t feel they’re adequately served by the system. Then there are others who feel that MARTA is the back-bone for the region’s transit services but that those living outside of Fulton and DeKalb aren’t paying their share.

“We need regional transit,” Bodker said, who also added that “it must be funded by every one who wants transit.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. SpaceyG on Twitter June 8, 2011 3:31 pm

    Oh let’s not get carried away here, folks. A nicey-nice conversation is a long way from raising taxes to fund a line from Kennesaw, Georgia into downtown Atlanta. Many rivers to cross, eh?Report

  2. “Transit summit of Atlanta’s northern suburbs seen as ‘breakthrough moment’”

    I firmly agree that this is a breakthrough moment for transit in North Metro Atlanta, especially for places like Gwinnett and especially Cobb County where the populace has been transit-averse for much of its history as a principle Atlanta suburb.Report

  3. Burroughston Broch June 8, 2011 10:00 pm

    @ Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?….

    Let’s not break out the champagne until after the vote – which is a long time from now.

    There’s nothing unusual about Chamber types and politicians chatting each other up and exchanging high 5s. Promises are one thing and reality is another. If the Chamber types and politicians could deliver, there would be no problems with the Atlanta Public Schools, for instance.Report

  4. Burroughston Broch says:
    June 8, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    “Let’s not break out the champagne until after the vote – which is a long time from now.”

    Oh, don’t worry, I haven’t quite finalized the plans for the victory parade and series of afterparties just yet as we all know that the passage of the transportation vote is anything but a shoo-in.

    I know that all parties involved have seemingly hung everything, including the future success of this region, on this upcoming vote, but as I just previously mentioned on another of Maria’s recent blogs on the transit issue, there are other creative ways besides sales taxes alone to pay for transportation improvements to roads and rail. The role that creatively placed user fees and “sin” taxes can play in helping to finance transportation projects shouldn’t be discounted in this process.

    Most everyone involved seems to think that tax increases are absolutely the one and only way to pay for transportation projects which is certainly not the case and is far from the truth.

    Instead of hanging everything and betting the house on a vote by a disgrunted and stressed populace to raise sales in the middle of a crappy economy and widespread angst over personal and governmental finances (and ethics), why not think a little outside the box and make the people who contribute the most to our traffic problems pay some of the bulk of the cost of transportation improvements?

    Why not work with local city and county governments to levy a percentage user fee/sin tax on traffic citations so that serial speeders and drunks who get behind the wheel and cause these huge horrific clusterf**k rush hour or off-rush hour collisions and accidents that frequently jam our major roads and freeways and back-up traffic for miles and miles?

    Why not make the idiots who cause these gargantuan messes pay either some or most of the cost of improving roads and transit since they’re the ones who primarily and frequently cause most of our collective pain out on the roads?

    User fees on parking spaces, parking tickets, tolls on new expressways, increased transit fares and even taxes on transit fares also must be apart of the conversation in helping to finance transportation projects. We can’t put everything on disgrunted voters approving tax increases in a hostile environment in the middle of a crappy economy.

    “There’s nothing unusual about Chamber types and politicians chatting each other up and exchanging high 5s. Promises are one thing and reality is another. If the Chamber types and politicians could deliver, there would be no problems with the Atlanta Public Schools, for instance.”

    But oh contraire, Mr. Broch. The Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta business community have been more than helpful to Atlanta Public Schools, especially during the boom years, providing an substantial amount of financial support to APS, certainly more than is expected or normally given from a business establishment to an inner city school district. The business community has done its part, but how were they to know that APS was “cooking the books”, so to speak, all along by giving the students the answers on standardized tests to make the district look alot better academically than it really ever was?Report

  5. Atlantaphotog June 8, 2011 11:43 pm

    They’ve been talking about things like this since I moved here 30 years ago. It’s still just talk. They’ve also received numerous Federal grants for “studies” and elected officials simply use that money to take free taxpayer-paid vacations to other cities saying they’re studying that city’s transit system. And yet, here we are, decades later, still talking and studying.


    They have actually reached and are just about to cross over the “point of no return” where it will be impossible to address and build a proper transit infrastructure here. Unless the “talk” actually turns into major construction within two years or less, they might as well forget it all and just allow Atlanta to choke in it’s own traffic and smog…. and allow businesses to continue to decide not to locate here as a result of lack of transit options.Report

  6. I agree that if “they” were actually serious about expanding transit and improving transportation overall, period, that “they” would have found a creative, innovative and robust way to pay for it other than just using the lazy excuse that “they” don’t wanna infuriate the voters by raising taxes to fund transportation projects that are experimental in the minds of many OTP Metro Atlantans and Georgians.

    The problem is that “they” doesn’t just include one singular governmental faction that refuses to fund critical investments in transportation, but that “they” includes multiple opposing factions often within the same agency or even office, not to mention the entire metro area and state government that often can’t even come to a consensus with each other on even something as simple as what time it is despite all looking at the same clock.

    Just the incredible mismash of all these state, regional and county agencies (from ARC, to GRTA, to SRTA, to the different county agencies, to MARTA, to CCT, to C-TRAN, to GCT, to perhaps the most dysfunctional of all, GDOT) with all having sometimes vastly differing agendas on how to approach transportation has made coming to a consensus on which way to proceed all but impossible over the 30-year period that you mention.

    Some of these factions want their own rail lines, some of them want bus rapid transit, some just want express buses, some want to concentrate on building more roads, some want light rail, some want commuter rail, but as of yet none of these differing and competing visions on how to approach transportation have really been brought together into one comprehensive plan on how to proceed ahead.

    Perhaps the worst example of a government agency having its very own misguided transportation agenda is the Georgia Department of Transportation which not too long ago endorsed an outrageous plan pushed by an ultraconservative road-advocacy think tank to build a cost-prohibitive multibillion-dollar network of expressway tunnels under Intown neighborhoods in the City of Atlanta when they can’t even come up money that hasn’t been “misplaced” to conduct routine maintenance on the roads they’re already responsible for due to state politicians using the department as a vehicle for political favors to their own crony business partners and allies. GDOT finally backed away from the plan when they realized that the public took the proposal as a complete joke that no one thought was very funny.

    Another one of GDOT’s outrageous plans is to enter into public-private partnerships to build a network of High Occupancy Toll lanes or “Lexus Lanes” throughout the metro area despite knowing full well that they won’t be able to make enough money even maintain the lanes, much less make a profit for the agency or even prospective business partners whom they can’t seem to be able to find without entering into a restrictive contract that prohibits improvements to any routes and other modes of transportation in the corridors that parallel the routes proposed for the lanes.Report


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