My column last week questioning the need for MARTA expansion caused quite the uproar in the pro-mass transit community. In case you missed it, I basically asked three questions about the proposed eight billion dollar expansion.
Will people use it? My answer: Maybe.
Will taxpayers fund it? My answer: Doubtful.
Is it really needed? My answer: In the long run, I don’t think so.
Lawmakers had their say under the Gold Dome last week as the bill shifted to the Senate Transportation Committee.
“If we want to continue to be the economic engine that we are, I think we are going to have to invest in transit,” said Senator Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, who is sponsoring the bill. “The people are ahead of the politicians on this issue. The people want this, the polling proves it.”
One of the major worries I have about the MARTA expansion is whether residents will be willing to foot the bill.
Senator John Albers, R-Roswell, who opposes the bill sees inequities on the funding side of the matter.
“Seventy percent of the money that would be collected for this referendum would come from Fulton County, and yet two-thirds of it would be spent in DeKalb County,” Albers said.
The time frame of the project’s completion is also a concern to Albers.
“We have a limited amount of resources and we need make sure that they are actually impacting people’s lives,” Albers said. “And waiting 10 to 15 years for something that will not improve traffic is simply not the answer.”
Which brings up a point I made last week, in 10 or 15 years when the project is finished, will it still be needed?
I honestly have my doubts. Look how far technology has taken us in the last 15 years. Care to guess what things will be like in a decade and a half from now? What percentage of our workforce will telecommute? How great will the impact of self-driving cars be? I think it will be a game changer.
Will people use it? Only three percent of metro Atlantans use transit, according to U.S. census data from 2013. Three percent. Can and will that number increase? Sure, but at what cost? It all hinges on the electorate.
“If the voters pass it then we will invest in infrastructure,” Beach said “Eight billion dollars’ worth of infrastructure. It will be the largest infrastructure project ever built in this state.”
The $8 billion is probably the biggest hurdle.
“We need to be smart and we do not need to continue to add tax burdens to everyone,” Albers said . “That’s not the answer. We can be smart, we can come up with creative solutions.”
Beach on the other hand feels that the MARTA expansion is a necessity to the area’s growth.
“We will never be a world class region if we don’t address transit,” Beach said. “We are victims of our own success. Which is great. We have traffic that means we are successful and we have jobs.”
Gridlock updates Mark Arum’s column appears Mondays. Listen to his traffic reports daily on News 95.5 and AM750 WSB, and see him each morning on Channel 2 Action News. Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markarum.