Opinion: Moving forward on regional transit in metro Atlanta

A few weeks ago, the Georgia General Assembly passed landmark legislation creating a regional transit authority in metro Atlanta. Skeptics believed it couldn’t be done, saying the issue was too complicated, our state and region too divided.

But I had faith that these obstacles could be overcome. Indeed, through the many months spent shepherding this bill through the state Legislature, I was greatly encouraged to find broad support across political and geographic lines. Just a few years ago, this would have been almost unthinkable.

So, what changed to bring about such a shift? Many factors are at play.

For one, there’s been a growing realization of the important role that transit plays in our economic competitiveness. Major companies, such as Mercedes-Benz, State Farm, and NCR, have chosen to locate near rail stations in metro Atlanta, and Amazon has made transit a major factor in its hunt for a second headquarters. Meanwhile, rival regions from Dallas to Denver have invested heavily in transit in recent years, threatening to erode one of Atlanta’s competitive advantages.

Also, MARTA’s reputation has vastly improved after many years of hard work and strong leadership. This is critical, given that MARTA is the backbone of the region’s transit network and will continue to play a major role in an expanded system.

In addition, people across the ideological spectrum understand that the Atlanta region’s traffic challenges can’t be solved only by building new roads. Improved transit options must be part of the mix.

And you can’t overlook the cultural change that’s taking place among young people, who are waiting longer than ever before to get their driver’s licenses, choosing to live near transit stations, and embracing ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

The legislation, which now awaits Gov. Deal’s signature, creates the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority, or The ATL. The ATL is charged with coordinating existing and future transit service and developing a regional transit plan for a 13-county area – Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, and Rockdale counties.

Think of The ATL as a toolbox that gives local governments the ability to establish or expand transit service in ways that benefit their communities.

Like any meaningful legislation, the regional transit bill is complicated and holds the potential for significant change. Here are some important things to know about what this bill does – and doesn’t – mean for transit in the Atlanta region:

  • The legislation allows counties to seek voter approval for sales tax increases of up to 1 percent for up to 30 years to fund transit construction and operations. Any project list must be developed at the local level and approved by The ATL governing board and made available to voters prior to any referendum.
  • No transit expansion can be dictated from the regional level. Counties retain autonomy and must “opt in” to any project or funding mechanism. Parts of the region are eager for new transit options now, while others may not be ready for some time.
  • In a few years, all transit service in The ATL will carry unified branding to make the regional system easily identifiable and customer-friendly. Discussions will begin soon about what that means for existing brands such as MARTA, CobbLINC, and Gwinnett County Transit.
  • MARTA will remain responsible for operating the region’s heavy rail system, including any new heavy rail projects that are authorized by The ATL.

The passage of regional transit legislation wasn’t easy and required tremendous leadership on the part of many of my fellow legislators and other regional leaders, including House Speaker David Ralston and my colleagues on the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding as well as my partners in the Senate, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Transportation Chairman Brandon Beach.

But in many ways, the hard work starts now.

We must develop a smart, comprehensive regional transit plan, while at the same time being wise stewards of public funds.

And the creation of a truly regional transit network will require difficult decisions by elected officials and residents alike. Counties must choose whether to pursue an expansion and decide on a project list, while voters will be asked to open their wallets to fund new service options.

This is an historic moment for metro Atlanta. I firmly believe that this legislation will unlock the region’s potential, improving mobility and quality of life while preserving our economic strength.

State Rep. Kevin Tanner, a Republican from Dawsonville, is chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Voices

Opinion: Fathers are cool

I’m going up to visit with my parents this weekend, to share Father’s Day with them.  To mark the occasion, here’s the great Luther Vandross, telling his own version of that age-old story.  Have a great weekend, folks, and as they say in the Good Book, “Honor thy father and mother”: <iframe width="459"...
06/17 Mike Luckovich. All new villains!
06/17 Mike Luckovich. All new villains!

The inevitable, demographic hand-off that’s headed Georgia’s way
The inevitable, demographic hand-off that’s headed Georgia’s way

Several weeks ago, before the year’s last bell had rung, I found myself in front of a group of very bright students at North Cobb High School. I sidled up to my topic carefully, beginning with George Washington and the virtue of restraint. Of all the Founding Fathers, Washington is most famous for what he might have done, but didn’t. After...
Opinion: Trump speaks; Trump lies
Opinion: Trump speaks; Trump lies

In comments on the White House lawn Friday morning, President Trump told at least three blatant, major and unquestionable lies. 1.) Trump said the new inspector’s general report totally exonerates him and proves there had been no collusion between his campaign and Russia. The report says NOTHING about that. Not a damn thing. He is trying to redefine...
The Jolt: Sonny Perdue heads to Canada to debate the price of milk
The Jolt: Sonny Perdue heads to Canada to debate the price of milk

In the United States, federally mandated ethanol subsidies, which prop up the price of corn in the Midwest, are the big dog in agricultural politics. Sonny Perdue is about to learn that the humble liter of milk has the same level of clout in Canada. One week after President Donald Trump shook up a G-7 meeting and hurled insults at its...
More Stories