By David Pendered
Cobb County’s potential sales tax referendum for transit, possibly on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot, is just part of the discussions CobbLinc and MARTA are conducting of the future of transit in four core counties of metro Atlanta.
MARTA has opened the door for riders to recommend bus routes and frequencies in the three counties it serves – Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton. Public meetings are underway to gather comments in advance of potential changes that could be implemented in the second half of 2022, according to MARTA’s timeline.
The review may be the most comprehensive since 1972, when MARTA bought the Atlanta Transit System. “MARTA hasn’t done this in a long time, but the region’s needs and goals have changed. We need to make sure that the bus network is right for today, and tomorrow,” MARTA’s presentation to the public stated.
MARTA does face constrictions in any possible revision of bus routes and frequencies of service. Transit equity has to be maintained, under federal funding agreements. Clayton County’s bus service is outlined in service contracts. MARTA’s board is to vote Dec. 2 on a locally preferred alternative that is to encompass the planned Southlake BRT and commuter rail projects.
CobbLinc is seeking public comments about its transit service in light of a possible sales tax referendum in 2022. Among the scenarios is a heavy rail line, similar to a MARTA train, to connect MARTA’s Bankhead Station with the Cumberland area, near Smyrna. Other possible projects include a countywide network of trails for pedestrians and bicyclists, enhanced bus service, and an improvement program for roads and sidewalks.
Cobb’s deliberations could present a major test of the Georgia Legislature’s three-pronged approach to expanding local funding mechanisms to enhance mobility in metro Atlanta. As described by Jonathan Ravenelle, the ATL’s transit funding director, Cobb’s options include:
- A sales tax of five years to fund mobility upgrades, of an amount not to exceed 1 percent. Revenues could pay for a broad array of projects including roads, bridges, transit and trails designed to serve pedestrians and bicyclists
- A sales tax of up to 30 years to fund transit, of an amount not to exceed 1 percent. Revenues could be earmarked for exclusive funding of transit projects and services
- A combination of both measures
Ravenelle presented the funding options during the Nov. 4 meeting of the board that oversees the ATL, the state authority established to improve transit options across 13 counties in metro Atlanta. Ravenelle’s comments set the foundation for Cobb County’s transportation director, Drew Raessler, to present the “Cobb Forward” mobility plan that’s now out for public comment.
The heavy rail scenario garners the most attention outside Cobb’s borders. It’s also the most expensive, at more than $5.2 billion. The total price estimate for all components in the heavy rail scenario exceeds $8.1 billion.
The scenario envisions a heavy rail line from MARTA’s Bankhead Station to the Cumberland area, near Smyrna. Cumberland is a transfer point for the CobbLinc system. A rail station could be designed to accommodate the ART and BRT systems being contemplated in the area, and also along I-285. Cumberland is near Truist Park, the baseball park that’s the center of a mixed-use development.