Measure that could affect MARTA Cobb expansion advances in House

A House of Representatives committee Wednesday passed a resolution that mass transit advocates fear could hamper a MARTA expansion into Cobb County for half a century.

The House State Properties Committee approved Senate Resolution 228, which authorizes the state to sell or lease a slew of public properties. Among them: the 137-mile Western and Atlantic Railroad line between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday, the state-owned rail line may be the cheapest way to expand MARTA into Cobb County. The alternative would be to build another route, likely at a cost of billions of dollars.

Cobb County voters rejected MARTA long ago, and there are no immediate plans for an expansion. But transit advocates believe the county will need more than highways to address its traffic problems in the long run.

The state leases the Western and Atlantic line to CSX Transportation for about $7 million a year. The railroad and the state are negotiating a 50-year renewal of the lease which would begin in 2020. Tentative terms of the lease call for CSX to pay $12.1 million a year initially, with rent rising 2.5 percent a year thereafter.

The lease has long included provisions that could allow passenger rail service on the line. But transit advocates fear the state could give CSX exclusive rights to the line – in effect, shutting out MARTA or something like it for 50 years.

On Tuesday state officials assured lawmakers that a provision for passenger service will be included in the lease. But they asked lawmakers not to tie their hands by amending SR 228 to require such lease provisions. If the resolution passes the General Assembly, the lease would not come back to the General Assembly for approval.

The resolution passed the State Properties Committee unanimously on Wednesday. It must still be approved by the full House before returning to the Senate, which must sign off on other amendments.

You can read the AJC's full article on the issue here.