Atlanta council OKs $908,000 to audit MARTA expansion

Credit: AJC file photo

Credit: AJC file photo

The Atlanta City Council approved a proposal Tuesday to spend up to $908,000 to audit MARTA’s transit expansion program for the city.

The details of the proposed audit — including exactly what it would examine and when it would take place — are still under negotiation. But the audit price tag that the council approved Tuesday morning is the latest indication that city officials are determined to learn more about how MARTA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars intended to expand transit in Atlanta.

In a recent interview, Councilman Amir Farokhi, who sponsored the resolution, said the proposed audit reflects “concern and frustration with both the sluggishness of project execution and a lack of transparency on why that has been.”

Plans to audit MARTA have been gaining steam since the agency announced in March that it was revising its plans for a $2.7 billion Atlanta expansion. The money for the “More MARTA” expansion program comes from a half-penny transit sales tax that voters approved in 2016.

In 2018, MARTA approved plans to spend the proceeds on 17 projects, including 29 miles of light rail and 13 miles of bus rapid transit. Since then, MARTA has scrapped plans for rail on Campbellton Road and the Clifton Corridor, while inflation and unexpected costs have raised the price of some projects.

Last year, the agency revealed that it had spent more than half the sales tax proceeds on enhanced local bus service and other operations instead of transit construction.

Earlier this year, a former MARTA official claimed the agency faces a $1 billion shortfall in its Atlanta expansion program. MARTA has disputed that figure.

In March MARTA and Mayor Andre Dickens reached an agreement on prioritizing nine projects — the rest will have to wait until sometime after 2035. That same month, the City Council approved a resolution calling for an independent audit of MARTA’s expansion program.

On Monday, the council followed up by approving a resolution that would add up to $908,000 to an existing contract with the firm Mauldin & Jenkins, which handles other city audits. The city’s finance department requested the resolution.

MARTA initially resisted the audit, but it has since been negotiating with Dickens on the terms of the financial review. Dickens’ office has declined to comment on the audit in recent weeks. On Monday MARTA issued a written statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“MARTA and the City of Atlanta are working together regarding the scope of the audit and look forward to the review of More MARTA financials,” the transit agency said.