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Atlanta transit bills headed for votes this week

Two bills that could reshape mass transit in metro Atlanta are headed for key votes in the General Assembly this week.

The Senate Transportation Committee today will take up Senate Bill 386, which would create a new board to oversee transit planning and construction in a 13-county region. The House Transportation Committee is expected to take up similar legislation – House Bill 930 – on Thursday.

Both bills would need to pass their respective full houses by Feb. 28, the “Crossover Day” deadline for legislation to pass out of its chamber of origin.

Sen. Brandon Beach told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he expects SB 386 to pass out of the transportation committee today and get a full Senate vote on Friday.

Under both bills, the new regional board would be responsible for establishing a transit plan for the Atlanta region. They would also allow any county in the region to hold a referendum on a transit sales tax of up to 1 percent. But counties would have to select projects included in the regional transit plan.

The goal of both bills is to ensure better coordination of transit service across the Atlanta region. Currently, there are 11 transit operators in the 13-county region (the biggest are MARTA, the state’s Xpress bus service and Cobb and Gwinnett counties, which operate local and express bus service).

Beach says the alphabet soup of agencies makes it hard to coordinate service across county lines. Under SB 386, “you’ll have a unified system instead of a fragmented system,” he said during a committee meeting Tuesday.

Some lawmakers are skeptical. Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, said he’s concerned the regional board will rob communities of local control of their transit services. He’s also concerned that money raised in his Cobb County could be spent elsewhere in the metro region.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Kevin Tanner has been fielding questions about HB 930 in a subcommittee. He expects one more subcommittee meeting before the full House Transportation Committee considers the bill on Thursday.

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