Reach transit agreement before seeking money, Fulton leaders agree

Fulton County leaders are discussing transit expansion in the county. AJC File Photo

Combined ShapeCaption
Fulton County leaders are discussing transit expansion in the county. AJC File Photo

Fulton leaders agreed Thursday that any plan for a public transportation expansion must have features that benefit residents who live in both the northern and southern parts of the county — and that they need those plans in place before they look for state support.

The mayors of cities in Fulton County met with commissioners to discuss the next steps in a potential push to improve public transportation options in Fulton.

“You have to make sure everybody is served,” Union City Mayor Vince Williams said. “You’ve got to make sure you do include everybody.”

The Atlanta Regional Commission has an old, pie-in-the-sky proposal on its books that doesn’t meet that requirement, Fulton’s leaders said. Known as Concept 3, it has limited bus and commuter rail service in south Fulton, and calls for an extended MARTA line into north Fulton, with some bus connections.

Steve Broadbent, the mayor pro tem of Johns Creek, said without “any connectivity across other cities,” MARTA’s expansion north wouldn’t be well-received by his residents.

“It’s not going to be a winning conversation,” he said.

The discussion came on the heels of the passage last fall of a sales tax for road improvements that will raise up to $655 million over five years to pay for transportation needs in Fulton outside the city of Atlanta. Atlanta passed its own measures, both to expand MARTA and to pay for other transportation improvements.

Earlier this month, Fulton County sent several commissioners, mayors and other representatives to Dallas, Texas to look at that city's transit system. The Fulton leaders came back impressed, not just with the system's breadth, but how Texas used its construction to generate economic development.

The mayors of south Fulton towns are interested in emulating that success, while those in north Fulton said they are more interested in using transit to relieve congestion.

The north and south of the county may want transit for different reasons, but they have to work together to ensure any future ballot measure meets the spectrum of needs.

“We need to have a better handle on what we’re actually talking about,” Commissioner Liz Hausmann said. “There are so many different ways to address it.”

Leaders don't expect any proposal to be on the ballot before 2018, and Hausmann said she didn't think it was feasible that a funding mechanism would be created before the end of this legislative session, though at least one bill related to transit funding has already been proposed this year.

The good news, Hausmann said, is that “many different folks are recognizing the issue” of transit.

The Atlanta Regional Commission’s map is several years old, Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson said, and is more a series of ideas than a concrete proposal. Mayors across Fulton County said they thought a grass-roots approach to creating a transit plan, with the input of residents region-wide, would have the best chance of being approved.

“We need to readdress all the options,” Roswell Mayor Jere Wood said. “We need to have a regional discussion about this.”

Hausmann said some residents also want to see what MARTA does in Atlanta and what city and county leaders do with transportation tax money before they entrust them with additional dollars.

While leaders want any Fulton transit expansion to connect to possible regional transit lines, they don’t want to wait for regional agreement — which could take years — before they move forward to solve for their own needs.

Wood said metro Atlanta’s traffic congestion “is enough of a crisis that we need to move forward with all of these plans” — working to find funding as well as to determine where any lines would go. But, he said, a list of needs is the first priority.

“If we pass legislation today, I couldn’t sell my city on a referendum until I have a list,” he said. “The first thing I need is a list.”