Gridlock Guy: Voters won’t decide on more transit funding for Atlanta

Gridlock updatesMark Arum’s column appears Mondays. Listen to his traffic reports daily on News 95.5 and AM750 WSB, and see him each morning on Channel 2 Action News. Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markarum.

When I’m wrong on an issue, I’m not one to run and hide. I admit my error and move on. A month ago in this column I suggested (much to the disbelief of many readers) that Senate Bill 330 which called for an $8 billion MARTA expansion would not be approved by the electorate. I was wrong. Citizens won’t even get a chance to vote on the massive expansion as the bill died on “crossover” day under the gold dome.

The fact that that the bill couldn’t get out of the house and senate is a crushing blow to what seemed like an issue with positive growing momentum.

So, what happens next? Lawmakers could reintroduce a similar or scaled down version of the bill during the next legislative session or, perhaps, a series of smaller mass transit solutions that have a better chance of passing.

According to reports by my AJC colleagues Arielle Kass, Andria Simmons and Kristina Torres, MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe asked House delegates from Atlanta to consider introducing “local legislation” to allow a ballot initiative this November just for Atlanta voters. The sales tax, if approved, would bring in roughly $60 million a year for rail and bus service enhancements within the city limits.

“The city of Atlanta has been quite clear that it is ready for more transit, and it is ready now,” Ashe said. “There are other parts of our service area that maybe aren’t ready yet or don’t know exactly what they want to do yet. This is not an abandonment of the desire to push expansion into those other areas. But frankly, it is a recognition that you can only do what you can do. Sometimes you need to fight the fight over a multi-year period.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement that “discussions to move MARTA funding forward are still going on. We’ll continue to stay at it, because I believe expanding MARTA is one of the most important things we can do to win the jobs war.”

Reed and many business leaders believe that mass transit expansion is critical to attracted more businesses to the region, and they are probably correct.

“As the Atlanta metro region continues to add more people by the day, transit is moving from the ‘nice to have’ category to the ‘must have’ category,” Katie Kirkpatrick, chief policy officer for the Metro Atlanta Chamber said.

That being said, if transit is a “must have,” a smaller expansion inside the Atlanta city limits might not be enough to do the job. A regional plan, even larger than Bill 330 will be needed.

“We are asking for regionalization,” State Senator Renee Unterman said. “We are asking for the (Atlanta Regional Commission) to come up with a regional plan, and for work on a study committee.”

It appears in the short term that large MARTA expansion is stuck in gridlock. Much like the daily commuters who chose to drive to work instead of taking mass transit.