Clayton starting to feel connected

For most of us in Clayton County, transportation and mobility have always meant roads, expressways and cars. Except for a brief time when the county operated the C-Tran bus system, residents without cars were limited in their ability to fully participate in the economic booms that metro Atlanta has witnessed in the last quarter century.

Last year,however, county commissioners gave residents the final decision on joining MARTA and, county voters in November overwhelmingly approved a one-percent sales tax, thus becoming a full-fledged member of the transit system.

Although the decision to join MARTA was more than 30 years in the making, it is already paying dividends. The MARTA sales tax went into effect on March 1, and MARTA demonstrated its commitment to the county by beginning its first service on three routes on March 21. Early reports indicate that ridership is strong, but the staff is constantly monitoring the situation. What few people may realize is that, while MARTA service is up and running, the transit agency will not begin receiving sales tax revenues from the Clayton County sales tax until later this month.

As part of the contract approved by voters, MARTA is reserving a half-cent portion of the sales tax to develop a high-capacity transit option in the future — commuter rail or bus-rapid transit. The remaining half-cent is funding the current bus service, as well as defraying costs of adding more routes later this year. The goal is to expand bus service to connect all areas of the county that need safe, affordable and convenient access to public transportation.

Clearly, there is still a pent-up demand for transit in the county and many people want everything – including rail service — available yesterday. That’s not possible, but MARTA’s planning staff continues working closely with the county and various transit advocacy groups to configure the new routes, and some may mirror earlier C-Tran routes.

MARTA will soon announce the additional bus routes coming online in August and December. For some, that may seem too long to wait, but consider this: Today, you can get on MARTA in Morrow and get to the North Springs station in Fulton County, a 30-mile trip for only $2.50, one-way. MARTA coverage in Clayton will soon extend farther south into Lovejoy, making it easier to connect to the rest of the county and metro Atlanta.

Buses are not the end of what transit will look like in Clayton County; they are just the beginning. Forward-looking leadership in Clayton County has put us in a better position to grow our economy by attracting new business and creating new jobs. Looking at economic development taking place across the region, we see a new paradigm for Georgia where businesses are increasingly looking to locate in areas that have access to transit. By embracing MARTA, I firmly believe we have taken an important first step in preparing for a bright and prosperous journey ahead for Clayton County.

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