Let voters decide on expanded transit options

It is often easy to forget about the convenience and privilege of having access to a car. Arguably, there is comfort and convenience in the transportation access my vehicle provides.

Growing up in Gwinnett County, and living a few miles from the Doraville MARTA station, I was exposed to additional transportation options at a young age. Arguably, there is a similar comfort and convenience in having alternative transportation options available – but this was not as easy of an option for me back then.

Last week, my car stopped working. My mechanic informed me that my engine may need to be rebuilt, costing up to $5,000. Contemplating the financial implications of the repair was stressful, but I was actually less concerned about replacing the transportation access my car provided. While I live near Midtown, I am able to easily commute to my job in Sandy Springs on MARTA, thanks to the rail expansion in 2000. Without the existence of multiple transportation options, this commute would not have been possible without owning a car or paying for daily car service.

While this is an isolated situation, the challenges presented by current transportation methods are not unique. Many residents of metro Atlanta do not have access to cars, and for those where a mass transportation option is available, there is no guarantee it may reach their desired location.

As metro Atlanta has thrived, growth and urbanization have placed significant pressure on our existing transportation system’s ability to serve all residents throughout the region.

Current efforts (such as Senate Bill 330) to address present and future transit demand while developing a more-comprehensive transit network are focused on enabling MARTA expansion north along Ga. 400, through the Emory-CDC Clifton Corridor, and east along I-20. Extensive expansion of major rail, light rail, and bus service would provide residents with enhanced connectivity to jobs, educational and training opportunities, and recreational activities.

The majority of residents in metro Atlanta are hungry for greater transit access and more ample transportation options. Voters should have the right to choose the future state of transit in their neighborhood.

A recent poll conducted by the Metro Atlanta Chamber reveals that, across almost every demographic polled, metro residents prefer expanding/improving rail and bus transit options over expanding/improving current roads – Republicans and Democrats alike.Moreover, support for the local rail transportation proposals up G400, through the Clifton Corridor, and along I-20 have overwhelming majority support.

The rhetoric of opponents at state and local governments is misleading. The current bill under consideration is directed at providing citizens with the option for a November referendum to vote on increasing local, dedicated revenue, to serve MARTA expansion.

On February 13th, State Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, wrote in The AJC, “The people overwhelmingly tell me they do not want a heavy rail solution forced upon them.” When discussing a partner at North American Properties (the owner of Atlantic Station and developer of Avalon) who was in support of MARTA expansion, Alpharetta City Council Member Jim Gilvin wrote, “It is no surprise he supports a bill forcing Johns Creek retirees to pay for a MARTA station.”

Opponents’ efforts to defeat the measure aim to incite resistance through misrepresentation of the legislation. If approved, the proposed bill would not force expansion on anyone. If approved, the proposed bill would allow residents to exercise their local control and guide the future of transportation and congestion solutions in their neighborhoods.

The real issue at hand is that opponents are uninterested in allowing constituents to have the ability to vote on an issue that is top-of-mind for the entire region.

Atlanta is suited for transit expansion. Residents require thorough transit access and want reliable transit options.

In addition to providing convenience, transit investment can fuel continued economic development while improving quality of life for residents through reductions in automobile emissions and their associated health impacts, decreases in anxiety and stress from sitting in traffic, and increases in productivity.

New polls continue to cite a critical mass of support for transit expansion, and residents deserve the right to vote on this important issue.

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Patrick Klibanoff is a board member of transit advocacy group Advance Atlanta.