Atlanta Council Hears Mayor’s MARTA Tax Project Proposals
(APN) ATLANTA — On May 19, 2016, the City Council of Atlanta’s Transportation Committee held a Work Session, in which it heard presentations for two proposed lists of transportation-related projects–one for MARTA and one for infrastructure projects–that could be part of two possible upcoming voter referenda on two half-penny sales taxes.
Notably, the MARTA list included an extension of the current Heavy-Rail West Line, what would be one of the first MARTA rail line extensions in many years.
Keith Parker of MARTA, whose Board previously approved its own proposed list, which was the start of the process, joined Melissa Mullinax and Katrina Taylor-Parks, both of Mayor Kasim Reed’s Office, to present on the initiatives.
“What we are presenting today is simply an overview of potential options; this is not an official proposal for the Council to vote on, these are simply the options that we want to Council to choose from for the final resolution,” Taylor-Parks told the Councilmembers.
Two resolutions for the two referenda must be passed by the City Council on or before June 30, 2016, and would have to include defined project lists at that time – a very short schedule for public deliberation that was created by the Georgia Legislature.
“What we are presenting today is much more than can be funded,” Mullinax noted.
“We want to be clear by saying that we love the idea of rail expansion, but we do not want to neglect our bus service either,” Mr. Parker said.
“The proposed Northside Drive bus corridor has the potential to have a dedicated bus lane, and electric sixty foot buses. We have already applied for the Federal funding to help pay for these electric vehicles,” Parker said.
“We know there is a large gap between the number of bus riders and rail riders, and we want to address this gap by using some of this money to improve the bus system,” Parker said.
Ben Limmer of MARTA discussed possibilities for light and heavy rail expansion, along with ideas for MARTA Station enhancements.
“We would like to see heavy rail expand past I-20, we want to see some light rail expand along the Clifton Corridor,” Limmer said, referring to a proposed line to Emory University.
“We have also heard from our customers that our rail stations need to be improved with better platform access for those with bicycles, and also the need for clearer directional signage and just general aesthetics,” Limmer said.
After the presentations, the Councilmembers asked questions.
“We want to increase mobility for everyone, what are the impacts of these proposed improvements on our labor force? Are these measures cost-effective?” Chairwoman Yolanda Adrean (District 8) asked.
“Southwest Atlanta is currently relying on Uber to get to work, have you talked to any large employers about these potential impacts?” Adrean asked.
Councilwoman Moore was concerned that she did not the complete list of potential projects, as she had requested in a previous Committee Meeting.
“I want to see the list of potential projects before they were narrowed down to the list we have in front of us, I want to see what they decided to take out,” Moore said.
Taylor-Parks responded by saying they would do their best to honor the Councilwoman’s request.
Councilman C.T. Martin (District 10) was not impressed with what was proposed.
“Looking at these maps, I do not see a lot of balanced growth,” Martin said.
“You will have little support from me, I am worried about the heavy rail expansion to I-20, there are neighborhoods in the path of the proposed expansion,” Martin said.
Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11) also expressed concerns regarding the potential developments.
“Uber doesn’t come to my house after a certain time, and from what I can gather from what has been presented to me, is that there seems to be no planning or development outside of areas around the Beltline. The entire Cascade area looks left out,” Bottoms said.
“If we are going to plan, we should plan for the whole City. Right now, I think my District deserves better. Also, it looks as though the most recent transit study for the Southwest area has not been updated since 2006. Are we going to get an update?” Bottoms asked.
Not that Northside enthusiasm was much greater.
Councilman Howard Shook (District 7) sees too much transit and not enough traffic-related investments..
“I am disappointed because I do not see much funding going towards relieving congestion or intersection improvements in the Buckhead area,” Shook said.
Shook was not pleased that so much attention was being given to heavy and light rail developments.
Councilman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) called for the project list to be significantly changed – saying he preferred light rail over heavy.
“Light rail brings development; look at Dallas, Texas. Two miles of heavy rail will buy you a lot of light rail, and I think light rail should be expanded into Southwest Atlanta,” Bond said.
“As far as heavy rail to I-20, I wanted that years ago, but now I believe we need to focus on light rail development for the Southwest areas of Atlanta. There is nothing substantive in these plans for Southwest Atlanta,” Bond said.
“Buses are fine, but I want infrastructure that brings more permanent investment. That is what light rail will do,” Bond said.
“The Beltline was a transportation project and it should stay that way. Maybe we take any more trail improvements off the table for this funding initiative,” Bond said.