New DeKalb County transit plan may include tax hike, rail expansion

DeKalb County commissioners have signed off on a transit master plan that includes four different scenarios, all with varying price tags, for how public transportation can be expanded over the next 30 years.

In approving the 19-page document, commissioners have committed to more fact-finding and public input in hopes of eventually ironing out a clear plan later.

In the meantime, DeKalb will send all four scenarios to the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority, also known as "the ATL" board, for further discussion.

The county commission’s vote on the plan was unanimous on Tuesday. Commissioner Larry Johnson said he supported the document because it still leaves the door open for expanding MARTA train service into south DeKalb.

“This transportation plan that includes rail and for MARTA to really look at it heavily is about equity, and so I want to make sure that stays put in the record,” Johnson said.

Earlier this month, commissioners narrowly approved a separate resolution in support of rail service in south DeKalb. Two of the plan's scenarios would accomplish that goal, but they are among the most expensive.

The costliest option would see the MARTA heavy rail line expanded east from Indian Creek into Stonecrest. This scenario also includes a light rail line in the Clifton Corridor near Emory University and mirrors a plan approved by MARTA years ago. There isn’t funding in place today to make this a reality and DeKalb isn’t currently allowed to raise taxes high enough to pay for this option, its consultants said.

Read more | DeKalb commissioners renew push for MARTA rail along Interstate 20

Another scenario envisions what would happen if DeKalb implements a new 1 percent MARTA tax. This would result in the county having the highest sales tax in Metro Atlanta at 9 percent, but it would create enough funding to pay for light rail in the Clifton Corridor and down I-20 to the I-285 exchange. This scenario also includes bus rapid transit lines along the county’s highways and major roads.

If DeKalb only raises taxes by .5 percent, the third scenario would only be enough money for the Clifton Corridor light rail line and limited bus rapid transit.

A fourth scenario outlines what would occur with no tax increase. The county would be forced to focus only on maintenance of current resources with no expansion of rail or new bus rapid transit lines.

Commissioners said they will continue to solicit input from the public and work with partners like MARTA, the ATL board and the Georgia Department of Transportation to decide which scenario is most feasible. The Transit Master Plan will eventually become a component of a larger Comprehensive Transportation Plan update for DeKalb.