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The ATL ranks $27 billion in metro transit projects

A suburban commuter bus in Atlanta showing a trio of state logos. Credit: Maggie Lee

By Maggie Lee

A year after it was set up, metro Atlanta’s transit authority has corralled and evaluated the $27 billion transit wish-lists of 13 counties.

Now the Georgia state Legislature — which long been skeptical of funding transit — can expect a little bit of lobbying for cash.

The ATL Regional Transit Plan classifies transit projects from 13 counties by things like cost and impact, irrespective of county or city lines.

Not everything in the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority’s report will get done. Federal and local funds (not the state) have long paid for the bulk of transit in Georgia, and that will still be true for the foreseeable future.

But a former Republican state representative from Cobb County thinks parts of the plan might soon attract state funding, even in a conservative state Legislature with a governor who has called for budget cuts.

The board had some spirited discussions on balancing return on investment versus equity, and on capital expenditure versus operational cost, said Earl Ehrhart, who’s a member of The ATL’s board. He said they landed on a good balance of those things for governing principles.

“I can take those principles and advocate to a conservative-leaning legislature and continue to press for transit,” Ehrhart said Friday, after the board unanimously approved the plan and a companion annual report and audit.

He said transit has got to affect people quickly if it’s going to get public support. That means it can’t be all about heavy rail that would take years and billions of dollars to build.

The plan’s low-cost, high-impact list is heavy on things like bus routes that connect the northeastern and northwestern outer suburbs into Downtown Atlanta.

Ehrhart said any state funding would probably depend on how the state revenue picture looks by the time the budget process starts in January. He suspects that if the governor and the state Legislature are interested, funding would probably start with bonds for relatively inexpensive projects — say $2 million or $3 million park-and-ride lots that could get new riders into the existing transit system very quickly.

(Incidentally, smallish bond fund allocations are how Georgia funds many university and college buildings. During the annual state budget process, a governor suggests some amount of bonds to be sold, leaving the state House and Senate to decide on which libraries to build or labs to equip.)

Chris Tomlinson, executive director of The ATL also said that the low-cost, high-impact projects could be seen as the best value, but it doesn’t mean the value of the high-cost ones are bad, if they’re also high-impact.

What’s important, he said, is that folks are thinking about how various projects impact the region, even if a bus interchange or park-and-ride sits across the county line.

“If people can advocate across county lines,” Tomlinson said, “that’s progress.”

Documents:

The ATL Regional Transit Plan

high_impact_higher_cost projects (csv)

high_impact_lower_cost projects (csv)

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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