A new government board won’t approve a transit plan for metro Atlanta until December. But its members are already thinking about how they’ll sell the $27.4 billion plan to the public and elected officials.
The Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (the ATL Board for short) is developing the plan. The plan’s 192 projects include major rail lines like Atlanta’s Clifton Corridor, a MARTA extension to Gwinnett County and a commuter rail line to Clayton County. It also includes new bus rapid transit lines, MARTA station renovations and other improvements.
On Thursday the board received a detailed briefing on the plan, heavy on metrics and statistics. One example: If the region built every project on the list, there would be 100,000 more jobs within walking distance of bus stops and other “low-capacity” transit lines. An additional 420,000 jobs would lie within walking distance of “high-capacity” transit like trains and rapid buses.
While they applauded the presentation, board members said it would take more than statistics to convince metro Atlanta voters and public officials to pay for a dramatic expansion of mass transit. It will take a vision.
“This is a milestone,” said DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, an ATL Board member. “What’s missing, though, is that energy and understanding. How do we breathe the breath of life into it, so it encompasses not just a list of projects, but a vision for the future?”
Many of the projects included in the plan are not funded. But the plan could pave the way for state funding for mass transit, as well as local referendums in Gwinnett, Fulton and DeKalb as soon as next year.
“We’re not going to go out and win hearts and minds with these spreadsheets,” said board member Earl Ehrhart, a former state representative. “We want to see the value of this plan fairly quickly. We’re not going to get their buy-in if we say, ’10 years from now we’re going to get you something.’”
The ATL Board has already been trying to win hearts and minds with recent public hearings on the tentative project list. It will step up that effort next week, when it will post more information about each project on its web site.
Final approval of the plan is expected at the board’s Dec. 13 meeting.
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