Atlanta Transit Expansion Comes Closer as Region Prepares for Tax Referendum

When it was originally proposed in 1965, MARTA was supposed to be the transit authority serving the entire Atlanta region, then splayed out over five counties. Yet the system required funding to be put in place, and when asked to devote some of their sales taxes to the cause, only people in Fulton and DeKalb Counties — the most central of the region — agreed to pony up. So the rail system that began operations in mid-1979 remains constrained to those counties’ borders. Lacking needed funds, the original system plan has yet to be completed.

That’s in spite of the fact that the ten closest-in Atlanta region counties now house more than 4.1 million people and have grown significantly over the past half century. Partially because of the failure to expand MARTA, the region’s transit mode share of work trips has declined disastrously from 16.8% in 1960 to 3.7% today. New transportation projects have been few and far between: Currently, the only transit program that has its funding secured in the Atlanta region is the short (and, from the standpoint of the region’s larger needs, modest) Georgia Transit Connector streetcar, which was funded by a U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant last fall.

Fortunately, the area’s residents will be allowed to vote next year on an increase in local funding for transportation through a 1¢ sales tax, which would extend across the ten counties if it were approved by the population. The referendum, which is expected to raise up to $7 billion in additional resources over the next ten years, was made possible because of the passage of a Georgia state law in June 2010 largely pushed through by new Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.