Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed shared his thoughts Thursday on what an additional $2.5 billion of transit funding could mean for the city, following the passage of state legislation that would allow for significant MARTA expansion.
Senate Bill 369 would let city voters, who already pay a 1 percent sales tax for MARTA, decide whether to pay an additional half-percent to add more service. Backed by several key leaders at the Capitol, the measure now appears headed for passage after clearing the House Wednesday. The Senate could vote on the measure next week.
If the MARTA referendum is approved by voters in November, the additional tax money could be leveraged along with bonds and federal matching funds to provide about $2.5 billion worth of new transit within Atlanta city limits.
SB 369 is a downsizing of a grander plan proposed by state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Roswell, that envisioned ballot initiatives in Fulton and DeKalb that would have funded $8 billion worth of additional rail service in the two counties.
Reed spoke to staff writer J. Scott Trubey and other media Thursday morning about what the bill’s passage could mean following a meeting of the city’s economic development arm, Invest Atlanta.
READ MORE: MARTA expansion bill clears House
Q: MARTA has said what they’d do with the ($8 billion plan). Does the city have enough needs within the city limits for this to work out?
A: Here’s the wisdom of the compromise. As I see it (the bigger MARTA expansion) remains open in the future because of the way that the items are structured. I think that the Speaker Pro Tem (Jan Jones, R-Milton) made it very clear that there are matters that can be addressed another day, but that progress can begin.
The bill that is being drafted allows the city of Atlanta to begin it’s MARTA investments in the largest expansion of MARTA funding in the history of the system and to begin to prepare for the influx of people moving into the city through a combination of rail and light rail and it addresses North Fulton and South Fulton’s concerns around great road construction and arterial expansion. The way both bills are drafted contemplates that, if the leaders of the region can come to an agreement for a long-term funding stream for MARTA.
If you follow the negotiations between mayors there were a number of regional leaders that were open to 40-year funding for MARTA after the first five years. The challenge was the fact that every mayor had a veto over the process. It required unanimity, or the maximum you could collect was 75 basis points (a three-quarter percent sales tax).
In my opinion the bill that the Speaker Pro Tem has led on allows for immediate investment and creates a framework for a longer term deal. That’s why I’m’ supportive. It also shows why everyone should go home and read the story of Lazarus.
Q: Do you know what that transit expansion might look like. What MARTA might do within the city limits?
A: No. But the good news is we have a very nice runway to structure the project list and to have a very robust public discussion about what that should look like. What I do know is that it’s going to have a much larger light rail component and it’s going to have a good amount of activity along the Atlanta Beltline Corridor. It is a real opportunity to make real progress around rail construction around the Beltline which many folks said would never happen.
Q: By light rail, does that mean separated from traffic?
A: Separated from traffic. This would be above the road light rail that really goes to the last mile issues that MARTA has. More people would take MARTA when the trains stopped and they were two to four blocks from their final destination.
I think you will see an effort to try to make it so where ever you take MARTA in the city, where the trail or light rail stops, you are a two to four block walk from your final destination.
If we achieve that in the city of Atlanta, we will see the city continue to have the record that we’ve had in attracting new businesses into the city corridor.
No serious person can argue the city of Atlanta isn’t getting more than its fair share of new jobs and expansions.
It’s one of the major reasons the ratings agencies moved our credit to AA+. They cited in detail the number of existing businesses – which you saw today a 600-person expansion of a business in the building we’re sitting in today – and the 13 North American or regional headquarters that have located within the city limits. All were driven by proximity to rail and light rail and the desire of millennials to be near rail or light rail.
I don’t think anybody thinks that the future of rail expansion in the city of Atlanta is heavy rail driven.