Transportation update: GRTA’s acting director, MARTA reorg on hold, Atlanta’s transportation planning
By David Pendered
Some degree of clarity is emerging in metro Atlanta’s cauldron of transportation planners, managers, and planning.
GRTA Executive Director Jannine Miller visited the Capitol Thursday to say her goodbyes to lawmakers and introduce them to Kirk Fjelstul, her deputy director who was named by GRTA’s board as acting director. Down Mitchell Street from the Capitol, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed remains without a transportation planning director as the city tries to figure out how to realign Martin Luther King Jr. Drive around the future Falcons stadium and implement its bike share program.
The resolution of two other matters is of note:
- A proposal in the General Assembly to revise the 1965 MARTA Act is on hold;
- The Senate voted to ask GRTA to create a website that would provide transit riders with information and ticketing for all the transit systems in metro Atlanta. Senators didn’t provide any money to do the work, though they asked the site to be functioning by July 1. GRTA offered to do the best it can.
- No motion is evident in a transportation funding proposal backed this month by groups including the Sierra Club of Georgia and the Georgia Tea Party. The idea is to allow a small number of governments form a coalition to back one transportation project at a time.
Miller is stepping down to join the C-suite at Home Depot, working in the finance/logistics arena.
During Miller’s three-year tenure as GRTA’s executive director, the agency has established a fairly stable source of funding for Xpress bus service. This was achieved when Gov. Nathan Deal provided $8.1 million in transit funding in the state’s base budget that takes effect July 1.
Previously, the money to operate regional transit was funded in a way that enabled lawmakers to more easily redirect the money from buses in metro Atlanta to some other purpose. One way to compare the importance of this shift is to think of a household budget, in which the expense for clothing is moved from a category of “optional” to “essential.”
“I am very proud of the work that our management and staff have accomplished together under the direction of the Board and Gov. Nathan Deal,” Miller said in a statement. “While I am sad to leave GRTA, I am excited about this unique opportunity to apply my career experience and professional education in a private-sector transportation finance capacity.”
Fjelstul joined GRTA in 2000 and helped with the negotiations that would have provided GRTA with $95 million in operating funds, if voters had approved the 2012 transportation referendum. Fjelstul is the agency’s chief legal counsel and served as interim director prior to Miller’s election by the GRTA board to the top spot, in 2010.
“It has been a pleasure having Jannine at the helm of this organization,” GRTA board Chairman Sonny Deriso said in a statement. “The board will be forever grateful for her dedication and leadership, and we wish her success as she takes this next step in her promising career. I am confident that Kirk and the staff will build upon her momentum and continue to provide strategic direction and valuable transportation services to the citizens of Georgia.”
In Atlanta, the position of transportation planning director has remained vacant since Josh Mello left in January for the private sector. His departure coincides with the Atlanta City Council’s vote to hire contractors to initiate the bike share program, in addition to the city’s involvement in realigning MLK Drive around the planned Falcons stadium.
Mello served three full years in Atlanta before taking a job as a senior associate in the Sacremento office of Alta Planning + Design. Mello’s title was assistant director of transportation planning, and he functioned as the city’s chief of transportation planning and implementation.
Reed recently moved Tom Weyandt, his former senior policy advisor for transportation, to the interim team that is running the city until Reed replaces former COO Duriya Farooqui, who left Jan. 31 for the private sector.
Concerning the effort revise the 1965 MARTA Act, the Legislature seems content to give MARTA CEO Keith Parker more time to implement changes before it forces MARTA’s hand.
The Senate Transportation Committee met Wednesday and took no action on House Bill 264. The proposal would extensively revise the MARTA Act of 1965 and was approved by the House in 2013.
The bill’s sponsor has said he is comfortable with the trajectory Parker has established for MARTA. State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), who chairs the Legislature’s joint MARTA Oversight Committee, conceived large portions of HB 264 before Parker took office in December 2012.