Mayor endorses call for audit of MARTA’s Atlanta expansion program



Mayor Andre Dickens has endorsed the City Council’s call for an audit of MARTA’s Atlanta expansion program.

In a letter dated Friday, Dickens seconded the council’s recent call for an audit of the More MARTA expansion program. The mayor’s endorsement makes it likely that an audit will occur despite MARTA’s initial hostile reaction to the proposal.

“I am aware that MARTA initially objected to the council’s request,” Dickens wrote. “Let me be clear: I support financial transparency and I believe that the elected leaders of the City of Atlanta have a role in ensuring good fiscal stewardship and project delivery, especially for a program that is primarily funded by Atlanta taxpayers.”

MARTA has drawn the city’s scrutiny as it reshuffles its $2.7 billion expansion plan for Atlanta. The city’s voters approved a half-penny sales tax for transit expansion in 2016, and MARTA later selected 17 rail, rapid bus and other projects to build over 40 years.

But MARTA has been backing away from that plan for more than a year. It selected bus rapid transit instead of rail for new lines along Campbellton Road and the Clifton Corridor. And it recently negotiated a new plan with Dickens that prioritizes nine projects, leaving the others in limbo until sometime after 2035.

The agency faces a revenue shortfall in the expansion program as costs have risen. And it has spent 46% of the sales tax proceeds to date on enhanced local bus service — more than originally envisioned.

Council members have been grilling MARTA officials about the change in plans for months. And they recently voted to request an audit of the program. The council members say they want to ensure taxpayers are getting their money’s worth from the program.

MARTA initially blasted the proposal, accusing council members of “playing politics” and telling the council to “get out of the way and let MARTA deliver the projects.” Later, agency officials struck a more conciliatory tone, saying they are willing to give council members “whatever it is they need to feel satisfied.”

Dickens’ endorsement seems to assure some kind of audit will occur, though the details must still be determined.

The mayor addressed his letter to MARTA Board Chairman Thomas Worthy and CEO Collie Greenwood. Dickens said he is grateful for MARTA’s new willingness to accept an audit.

“Atlanta residents have questions regarding the status of the More MARTA program,” Dickens wrote.

“It is now clear that MARTA will not be able to deliver each project presented within the expected schedule when voters were asked to approve the More MARTA sales tax in November 2016,” he wrote. “The City of Atlanta and the constituents we serve deserve a full and transparent accounting of the dollars raised and spent under this program from its inception.”