Fulton leaders to hash out opinions on transit, MARTA options

A plan to expand transit access in Fulton County is taking its first, early steps.

County and city leaders still aren’t at the point of talking about what, exactly, they might want from MARTA. But they’re trying to agree that they do want something. And they’re hoping to develop a plan for transit in Fulton.

At the same time, they want to know how a Fulton-centric plan might fit in with regional efforts. So they're asking for a study that includes transportation and planning groups throughout the region.

On Wednesday, Fulton County commissioners agreed to send a draft resolution that called for the Fulton plan and the regional study to the mayors of its 13 cities outside Atlanta.

By sending the draft to mayors to bring to their city councils, county leaders hope to get input from the cities to collaborate on a plan. After the cities have a chance to consider the proposal, the mayors and county officials will meet to hash out more details before sending any requests to the state legislature.

“We hope to get their buy-in and support,” Fulton County Chairman John Eaves said of the decision to share the resolution with city leaders before commissioners approve it.

The resolution encourages the state legislature to allow Fulton County to use its taxing ability for increased transit investment. Outside Atlanta, county residents agreed last month to raise sales taxes by three quarters of a penny for five years to raise up to $655 million to pay for road and other transportation improvements. The county could use a quarter of a penny for MARTA or other transit enhancements over the next five years, or more in the future.

In Atlanta, voters agreed to raise taxes by half a penny over 40 years, raising $2.5 billion for MARTA expansion and four-tenths of a penny over five years, raising as much as $320 million for other transportation.

County commissioners don’t expect to put anything on the ballot until 2018. But they hope the legislature will give them the green light to move forward in 2017, so they have plenty of time to prepare.

“I would be surprised if there’s actual movement this year,” Vice Chairman Liz Hausmann said. “This is a study year.”

She noted that some leaders — particularly in North Fulton — remain apprehensive about the role of transit. A number of Fulton mayors and other representatives will be traveling to Dallas, Texas next month as part of a trip arranged by Hausmann to show them some of the possibilities of transit.

The fact that leaders are willing to go, she said, shows there are “encouraging signs that people are open to exploring options.”

Eaves promised that the ultimate resolution would emphasize the need for a specific plan, as well as the need for a comprehensive study.

“The idea is to being all the parties to the table to talk about specific plans,” Commissioner Bob Ellis said. “I think it’s a good course of action.”