By Maria Saporta
Transit and alternative modes of transportation should make up half of the project list now being put together by the Metro Atlanta Regional Roundtable.
That’s the position taken in a “white paper” prepared by the Livable Communities Coalition and its Fair Share for Transit Initiative that is being presented to the roundtable in time for its meeting Thursday morning.
The roundtable’s project list will be on the ballot in 2012 as part of the one penny regional transportation sales tax. The roundtable will have to complete its proposed list by Oct. 15 of this year.
The “white paper” was put together by Ray Christman executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition.
“Fair Share is based on the belief that maintaining and expanding our regional transit system is critical for metro Atlanta’s continuing economic competitiveness, the growth of jobs, and our future quality of life,” according to the white paper. “Public transportation investment done right will help the economy, improve the environment, and bring about greater opportunity for all residents.”
The white paper has two major sections — the policy reasons why transit is important and a suggested “portfolio” of transit projects that would help create an integrated regional system.
First, there needs to be a regional vision for transit and “not just a set of independent projects.”
That transit vision should be based on three principles — building an integrated regional light rail system that connects to the heavy rail system; supporting and maintaining the existing core urban and suburban transit systems by making sure they are able to operate efficiently and sustainably; and that equity exists in all parts of the region and among all segments of the population.
Second, expanded transit investment in the region should be built on the connection between transportation and land use.
Third, polls and surveys demonstrate that people want more transportation choices that are connected to more livable and walkable communities.
Fourth, the region’s key planning documents call for substantial new transit investments.
And fifth, the roundtable should consider all potential transportation funding sources and not just dollars raised from the new regional tax as it develops its project list.
When it comes to a portfolio of key transit projects, the white paper draws from the unconstrained list of projects that was released by the Georgia Department of Transportation on June 1.
From the perspective of the Fair Share Initiative, the primary objective should be in building “an integrated fixed guideway transit system for the region that expands upon the existing MARTA heavy rail system.
Among the specific rail projects:
• Atlanta Beltline’s priority segments and related streetcar enhancements as identified by the City of Atlanta;
• The I-20 East transit to Candler Road with associated bus improvements;
• Clifton Road – Lindbergh Center Station transit line;
• I-85 corridor Light Rail Transit to Gwinnett County;
• I-75/US 41 corridor Light Rail Transit expansion – Art Center Station to Cumberland (and ultimately to Kennesaw);
• MARTA North Line rail extension into North Fulton county;
• Commuter rail from downtown Atlanta to Griffin.
The Coalition also supports regional bus service expansion among all the existing transit systems as well as restoring bus service in Clayton County.
Next, the Coalition said it is essential for existing transit systems to be in states of good repair. That likely would involve capital investments and system improvements in MARTA — viewed as a necessary pre-requisite to attracting new federal funds.
The Coalition’s Fair Share Initiative also believes that a “significant” portion of the new sales tax revenues should support pedestrian and bicycle improvements such as crosswalks, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and path expansions to provide easier access to transit.
A number of projects also have been submitted to support the needs of senior citizens and the disabled. A Mobility Management Call Center could provide trip planning assistance and access to transit.
Lastly, the Coalition strongly recommended the development of a multi-modal passenger terminal in downtown Atlanta as a way to support the development of heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, express bus and local bus services in the region.
“If the referendum is approved, the region will be able to invest in transportation infrastructure at an unprecedented level, with enormous economic development and quality of life benefits,” the white paper stated in its conclusion. “If the Regional Roundtable can develop a balanced project mix of transit and roads, it can begin to build the new economy that metro Atlanta’s residents desire – an economy that creates jobs and provides an ever-improving quality of life.
To read the entire white paper, click here.