By Sean Keenan
The economic damage dealt by the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to continue to put a strain on government programs that were mapped out long before the world began slipping into a recession.
In metro Atlanta, that could mean plans to expand transportation infrastructure could be crippled or, at best, delayed, according to transportation experts who discussed the future of mobility in the region during a webinar hosted by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).
It’s too soon to say exactly what impact the mounting economic turmoil could have on programs like More MARTA, a nearly $3 billion blueprint for transit expansion in Atlanta. “We have to figure out how much the revenue is down and how much is available from the stimulus funding,” MARTA’s assistant general manager of planning Heather Alhadeff said, speaking to federal support during the crisis. “There are a lot of questions there that we have to get right.”
Approved by Atlanta voters in a 2016 referendum, the $2.7 billion More MARTA program promises 29 miles of light rail, 13 miles of bus rapid transit lines and upgrades to the agency’s existing infrastructure, such as train and bus stops.
Whether MARTA officials will have to trim the sprawling project list or simply delay projects until the economy rebounds remains to be seen.
John Orr, ARC’s transportation and mobility manager, added to that sentiment, but from the regional perspective, saying, “We are all collectively planning for some reductions in revenues, and we’ll have to wrestle with that.”
In February, ARC officials approved a sweeping $173 billion transportation plan that is expected to allocate federal, state and local funding for the next three decades for roadway enhancements, transit expansion and alternative transportation upgrades.
How that might shake out, too, remains unclear.