Regional consensus reached on transportation projects; now focus turns to state
By Maria Saporta
Two sentiments dominated Tuesday’s Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable meeting.
First, there was a feeling of relief and exhilaration that the diverse interests in the region were able to find consensus.
And the second feeling was that now it was up to the state to become a full partner in the development and funding of transit in the Atlanta region.
“It feels good,” said Tim Lee, chairman of the Cobb Commission after the roundtable was able to agree on a strategy for the remaining four amendments to the draft list of transportation projects.
“Now I’m interested in seeing what our state partners will do in terms of governance and additional funding,” Lee continued. “If we are going to play team sports, they need to show up for the game.”
Clayton County Commission Chair Eldrin Bell had introduced an amendment to shift $350 million towards the Atlanta-Griffin commuter rail line. But he withdrew that amendment at the meeting.
“That $350 million would have impacted other transit projects, and I didn’t want to do that,” Bell explained. “I want to be supportive of all transit that gets us to where we want to go.”
Bell said he was “mildly comfortable” with how the final list came together with one exception — the funding of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s Xpress buses.
“I’m of the mindset that the state has an obligation since they went into the bus business that they need to support it,” Bell said.
Another big issue for Bell is how the issue of transit governance will be resolved. Currently, Gov. Nathan Deal has set up a task force to work on legislation to have better coordination between the different transit agencies in the region.
“It can’t be state-controlled,” Bell said, adding that the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Transit Implementation Board had put together a proposal for transit governance that would have had fair representation of the region’s interest along with state participation.
Burrell Ellis, CEO of DeKalb County, also saw his amendment for increased funding of the MARTA I-20 corridor fail for lack of a second. But he was satisfied with how the list turned out.
“It ended in a very strong way through the building of consensus, shared sacrifice, collaboration and a willingness to make some tradeoffs across county lines,” Ellis said. “We tackled some really difficult issues with a spirit of collaboration.
“Obviously everybody had hoped to get more for their projects, but obviously the penny sales tax we understood we couldn’t do it all. I think we cam up with a fair list.”
Bucky Johnson, the mayor of Norcross who served as chairman of the Roundtable, succinctly said: “I’m thrilled.”
Despite some “dissension” and some “bumps in the road,” Johnson said “people rolled up their sleeves,” and agreed to work cooperatively.
The full roundtable will have a ceremonial vote Thursday, Oct. 13 in support of the final list of $6.1 billion of transportation projects that would be funded if voters in the 10-county Atlanta region approve a penny sales tax in 2012.
But several pieces — such as transit governance — still need to be worked out, Johnson said, adding: “We need the state stepping up to the plate on funding.”
As far as Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was concerned: “the process worked.”
The whole process took about a year which gave the region’s leaders a chance to get to know each other and figure out how to work together.
“The group is much more cohesive after a year,” Reed said.
One of the observers of the process — Matthew Hicks, associate legislative director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia — simply said after the meeting: “Statesmanship does exist.”
Now the question will be whether the statesmanship that emerged at the region will find its way to the state capitol and the state legislature.