MARTA says a budget crunch brought on by the pandemic could affect its expansion plans in Atlanta, which includes 15 miles of the Atlanta Beltline. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

MARTA’s budget crisis alarms Atlanta Beltline supporters

Reports of a financial crisis at MARTA are making supporters of transit on the Atlanta Beltline nervous.

Last week, the region’s largest transit agency reported it has a $50 million hole in its operating budget – a hole that’s expected to get bigger as the coronavirus pandemic continues to suppress travel and the economy. Interim Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hurley told the MARTA Board the agency’s capital budget – which pays for new construction and maintenance of the existing system – also is suffering. 

Hurley said expansions in Atlanta and Clayton County could be affected. He said MARTA could borrow more money for those projects, do fewer of them or delay them. 

That got the attention of Beltline Rail Now, a group that has fought for construction of light rail along the 22-mile Beltline loop in Atlanta. A MARTA expansion plan approved in 2018 includes 15 of those 22 miles. 

In an email to supporters Wednesday, Beltline Rail Now drew comparisons to the Great Recession in 2008, which forced MARTA to cut service and stalled progress on the Beltline. 

“With another economic crisis now upon us due to the pandemic, we can’t let that history repeat itself,” the group said. “Even with this outbreak, we’re still going to have a lot of new neighbors in coming decades, and we’ll need better ways to get around and grow equitably, sustainably and affordably.” 

The group also said it’s time to find a way to pay for transit in Atlanta “that doesn’t depend so much on volatile and regressive sales tax collections.” 

MARTA’s Hurley said last week it’s too soon to say what steps the agency will take. But on the operating side, it’s already taking drastic action, eliminating most of its bus routes for the foreseeable future. 

Beltline Rail Now also has offered no details of its plans. But the group was a persistent, loud voice as MARTA unveiled its Atlanta expansion project list and the timetable for projects. This week’s email suggests Beltline supporters will not remain silent if MARTA starts scaling back expansion plans.

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About the Author

David Wickert
David Wickert
David Wickert writes about transportation issues for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He previously worked for newspapers in Washington state, Illinois...
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