live video

Funeral service for former First Lady Barbara Bush in Houston

Georgia lawmakers to tackle transit funding in metro Atlanta

After decades as the poor stepchild of transportation, mass transit could get plenty of love at the Gold Dome in 2018.

Atlanta’s traffic mess and economic development concerns — including Amazon’s search for a second corporate headquarters — have made public transportation an urgent priority at the Capitol and at county courthouses.

House of Representatives commission is discussing ways to boost state funding for public transportation — likely in the form of spending on capital projects. Lawmakers also want to consolidate the alphabet soup of agencies that provide transit services in metro Atlanta to make the system more efficient.

“The devil’s in the details,” said state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “But if we can make it happen, it would be truly transformational for this state.”

Transit won’t be the only hot transportation issue during the upcoming session. Another House committee has been studying ways to combat distracted driving, and it could recommend legislation requiring drivers to use hands-free cellphone technology.

Not long ago, transit talk was scarce in the General Assembly. Well-documented financial and operational problems long fueled anti-MARTA sentiment among legislators. And suburban resistance made talk of a regional transit system politically toxic.

But years of improvements at MARTA have thawed relations with lawmakers. Construction of several corporate headquarters along MARTA lines has opened eyes about the importance transit plays in economic development. And changing attitudes have paved the way for talk of transit expansion in the suburbs.

The state’s two largest counties — Fulton and Gwinnett — plan transit referendums in November. For those votes to happen, they’ll need state legislation allowing local governments to collect transportation sales taxes for at least 20 years, and likely longer. The long TSPLOST life is needed to meet federal funding requirements and to pay for big-ticket projects such as light rail or bus rapid transit.

Meanwhile, a House commission has been studying state funding for mass transit. Georgia spends about $14.5 million on transit annually — much of it for Xpress bus service in the Atlanta area. That’s enough for Georgia to rank 27th among the 50 states in spending on public transportation.

Lawmakers say they’re not inclined to subsidize transit operations. Instead, they’ve discussed finding a dedicated funding source for capital projects.

“I think the state’s role would be capital construction,” said state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “We do billion-dollar projects, and we’re pretty good at it.”

Tanner wants to tackle funding for metro Atlanta in 2018 before taking up transit issues in the rest of the state next year. But there’s a catch: Lawmakers also want to consolidate the slew of agencies that provide public transportation across the Atlanta region.

Exactly what that would look like is unclear — the House commission won’t unveil specific proposals until late this month, and the Senate may draft separate legislation. Tanner envisions a regional planning and funding board covering the 13 counties served by the Xpress bus system; Beach thinks it makes sense to focus on the five largest metro counties: Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett.

Tanner said MARTA, Gwinnett County Transit, CobbLinc and other agencies likely would continue to operate transit services. But consolidating some of their planning and funding functions would still mean finessing touchy issues of local control.

Local officials say they support the initiative. But they’re mindful that anything that passes the Legislature this session will affect the prospects of ballot measures in November.

“You have to make sure that whatever is proposed is sellable to the public,” said Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann, a leader of the county’s transit initiative.

Meanwhile, another House committee has been studying distracted driving. Fatalities from motor vehicle accidents are on the rise in Georgia and across the nation. Experts say driver distraction caused by cellphones is a likely culprit.

The commission has discussed legislation requiring drivers to use hands-free cellphone technology, though it has not yet released recommendations. Previous efforts to enact such a law have gone nowhere, and it’s unclear whether new proposals would do any better.


The AJC's David Wickert keeps you updated on the latest in what’s happening with transportation in metro Atlanta and Georgia. You'll find more on, including these stories: 

New metro Atlanta express lanes: Traffic relief if you pay by the mile 

Major work begins on one of metro Atlanta’s worst traffic bottlenecks 

Atlanta traffic after I-85: It’s going to get worse 


Never miss a minute of what's happening in Atlanta transportation news. Subscribe to

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Legislature

New legislation to change school funding, discipline, testing
New legislation to change school funding, discipline, testing

Kindergarten students will start learning about sexual assault, schools will find it more difficult to expel misbehaving tykes, and people who speed through a school zone could get caught by a machine instead of a police officer, if Gov. Nathan Deal signs these recently passed bills. They are among about two dozen consequential school-related bills...
Senators back Liberty Bell monument honoring MLK atop Stone Mountain
Senators back Liberty Bell monument honoring MLK atop Stone Mountain

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech famously referenced Stone Mountain during his “let freedom ring” climax, and there are references to the civil rights leader within the park. Sen. Emanuel Jones, chairman of the state’s Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Council, wants to take it a step further...
No contract for Blue Cross Georgia, Piedmont Healthcare
No contract for Blue Cross Georgia, Piedmont Healthcare

About a half-million Piedmont Healthcare patients will have to find new healthcare providers to avoid out-of-network prices, after the the company and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia could not agree to new contract terms. The previous contract ended at midnight without a new deal, said Piedmont spokesman Matt Gove. The negotiations affected about...
Georgia just passed distracted driving bill: What’s legal, what’s not?
Georgia just passed distracted driving bill: What’s legal, what’s not?

The Georgia General Assembly late Thursday approved House Bill 673, which would require drivers to use hands-free technology when using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. But “hands free” isn’t as clear cut as it sounds. Here’s a look at what would and would not be allowed, assuming it is signed by...
Georgia lawmakers don’t give sex abuse survivors more time to sue
Georgia lawmakers don’t give sex abuse survivors more time to sue

Georgia lawmakers endured hours of grueling testimony and debate about predator pedophiles during this legislative session, but in the end they couldn’t agree on a law that would have let more adult survivors of child sex abuse file lawsuits. The Hidden Predator Act would have extended the statute of limitations for lawsuits to age 38 from the...
More Stories