Roads can be built in a year or two, but a train may easily take at least 5 years to build. A train costs more too. Much more. Therefore, we should not build the train.
But what if I told you the train, if done correctly, would allow more people to move into the region, spur economic growth, and grow the tax base all while helping to curtail traffic congestion? Oh yeah, and an overwhelming majority of local residents and the local Chamber of Commerce supports paying more for the train.
Nope, don’t think it would be good. Won’t even consider it.
And that’s basically how any talk of funding for MARTA in Atlanta or transit in most southern cities has progressed over the past several decades. While other cities, most notably Charlotte, Houston, Phoenix, and Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads, started abandoning this line of reasoning years ago, for some reason it has persisted in Georgia. Well, we may finally be witnessing the Georgia Legislature coming to terms with reality, one small step at a time.
A new poll, conducted this past October, shows that 73 percent of registered voters in Dekalb and Fulton counties support the expansion of MARTA. While that number may not be too shocking, what is significant is that 58 percent of Republicans in those two counties favor expansion as well. And, according to the pollster, that majority still stands if only responses from North Fulton are considered.
This is important since extending MARTA rail along GA-400 to at least Alpharetta is part of the authority’s official expansion plan. While obviously not everyone favors expanding MARTA, and it’s reasonable for the politicians representing those people in the legislature to mirror the sentiment, it is reckless and irresponsible to completely reject even the consideration of transit options.
The City Council of North Fulton’s John’s Creek recently unanimously approved a resolution rejecting MARTA rail service. Since it is their job to plan for the economic and personal well-being of residents and the overall growth of the city, they carefully considered investing in rail service or other transit options prior to making a decision, right? Of course not. They quickly passed the resolution without public comment.
Is the writing not on the wall? Has traffic in Atlanta gotten better over the past several decades as we’ve built more and more roads? Are other cities throughout the country not increasingly placing emphasis on transportation alternatives to massive highway and road projects as a means of effectively planning for future growth? Has Cobb County not recently voiced interest in mass transit after having historically been adamantly opposed?
Though more Georgia legislators are coming to understand the necessity of investing in transit options we’re still just taking baby steps. Senator Brandon Beach, a Republican from Alpharetta, introduced two bills last week that would allow residents of Fulton and Dekalb Counties to vote on whether to raise the sales tax by half-a-cent to pay for MARTA expansion. That’s right; the major bill introduced to fund MARTA transit, considered a symbolic ideological turning point for transit, is one that simply allows people to tax themselves to pay for what they need and want.
There’s a reason why Senator Beach had to file two bills: the first bill, SB-313, was accidentally sent to the Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee. As Jim Galloway of the AJC reported so well, this is a problem for Senator Beach and the other co-signers of the bill (both Democrats and Republicans) because that committee is chaired by a staunch anti-transit senator from Roswell.
John Albers, the aforementioned Senator, was quoted in the AJC article as saying the following in regard to MARTA rail: “Because to have something that may, in 12 or 15 years, benefit someone isn’t really helping that mom or dad trying to get to work, or get their kids to soccer practice.” He would rather look for meaningful solutions that help people in the short term. As a result of the mistake, Senator Beach filed SB-330 with the Senate Transportation Committee, which is chaired by fellow Republican and co-sponsor Tommie Williams.
As we discover throughout life, it’s always better to focus on what you need right now and completely disregard the future. If only that were true. Sure, we do need to focus on short-term solutions, but those solutions must uphold the goals of some long-term plan. The haphazard widening of roads for short-term solutions and the fundamental lack of a binding long-term regional plan for sustainable growth is why we’re in this situation; it is not the solution.
MARTA rail in North Fulton may be a useful and necessary tool for future growth. Or it may not. To categorically denounce something that the majority of local residents would like, and that mounting evidence shows is incredibly beneficial when done right, is short-sighted and irresponsible.
We’ve done many posts and articles on the benefits of investing in more expensive rail options and how land use codes need to change in order to take full advantage of the investment. Here’s one, here’s another, here’s one more. Solely building more roads and highway isn’t going to work anymore; there’s no more room and it tends to just lead to more congestion. Continuing to staunchly uphold the idea that it will work is like arguing that cigarettes don’t cause cancer or that the Earth isn’t round (sadly that’s relevant).
We’ll have an article analyzing the MARTA expansion plan as well as the normal update on relevant bills being introduced and discussed in the legislature in the coming week.
Cover photo by SustainAtlanta.