The renewed interest is driven, in part, by economic development concerns. Companies like State Farm and Mercedes-Benz are building along MARTA lines, and Amazon has made clear that any community hoping to land its new corporate headquarters must have access to mass transit.
Officials in Fulton and Gwinnett counties are preparing transit expansion plans they may present to voters next year. Cobb County also is developing transit plans that could lead to a vote.
Georgia spends about $14.5 million annually on transit – much of it for Xpress bus service in the metro Atlanta – and ranks 27th among the 50 states in spending on public transportation.
Among the ideas to boost state funding that the commission has discussed:
- Providing regular funding for capital expenses, but not transit operations. Though Georgia already operates commuter buses in the Atlanta area, Tanner has said the state is not interested in getting deeper into the business of operating transit services.
- Amending Georgia law to allow special districts – that perhaps cross county lines – to approve sales taxes to support transit. That would allow communities that want transit to pay for it without obligating parts of a county that are not interested.
- Changing state law to extend the life of transportation special purpose local option sales taxes (T-SPLOSTs) to at least 20 years. Currently, such taxes can last for only five years. But to qualify for federal funding, local transit projects must have at least 20 years of funding available.
Tanner’s push to address such issues in Atlanta first is just the beginning of the commission’s work. It may spend much of the next year addressing funding and other issues in other urban and rural areas of the state.
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