It's a sad day for Georgia when the realization that we need more transit options comes only after a devastating event like the collapse of I-85. Life in metro Atlanta came to screeching halt late last month when a portion of I-85 collapsed.
People who live in north Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties were forced to find alternative routes to get into and out of the city of Atlanta. It was, and still is, a disaster. I believe the only good thing to come from this catastrophic event is that people are now starting to see the value in transit options and are beginning to use commute alternatives like MARTA.
Last year, I pushed hard for more transit options like expanding MARTA rail lines in Fulton and DeKalb Counties. The legislation I proposed would have allowed the people of Fulton and DeKalb Counties to approve a half-percent sales tax for investment in transit. After a very clear defeat in the Senate just weeks after the bill’s introduction, it was obvious to me that metro Atlanta wasn’t ready to invest in long-term transit solutions at the time.
Some opponents of the MARTA expansion legislation cited the bill’s language was too narrow since it only included two of the metro area’s five most populous counties. The truth is, these complaints had some merit and to address them Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, introduced Senate Bill 6 this year, which I co-sponsored. SB 6 would have created the Georgia Regional Transit Council (GRTC), which would have been responsible for establishing a statewide strategic transit plan to enhance Georgia’s transportation infrastructure.
Let me be clear, the GRTC was not just going to be a study committee that would simply review the inadequacies of our transportation infrastructure. We’ve studied things to death, and the last thing we need to do is waste more taxpayer dollars studying something we already know is an issue.
This Council’s mission, had the legislation passed this session, was to develop a seamless transportation network with dependable trip times for commuters, road congestion relief, enhanced limited access highways, safety enhancements and plans for future transportation initiatives.
However, just because the legislature did not find value this session in improving our transportation infrastructure statewide, I will not give up. Every citizen in the state of Georgia relies on our transportation infrastructure and networks to move safely in and around our state.
In light of the recent collapse of one of the state’s main transportation arteries, it is more important now than ever before that we bring together Georgia’s transit authorities and agencies to work as a unified body to develop and execute a plan in order to be prepared for whatever may happen in the future.
While we have a lot of work ahead of us fixing our interstate systems, I want to give a shout-out to those who have been very quick to respond to the needs of Georgians in the metro area and got the city of Atlanta back up and running.
The Georgia Department of Transportation is doing a fantastic job getting things underway to repair the damage done to I-85. They’ve already secured $10 million in federal funding to go towards replacing the roadway, completed the demolition phase of both sides of the highway and gotten the design phase underway. MARTA and GRTA quickly assessed the need for expanded service and stepped up to the plate to ensure Georgians can get to where they need to be quickly and efficiently. Finally, I want to extend a sincere thank you to the first responders who were responsible for keeping everyone safe when the collapse happened.
Even though SB 6 did not pass, the time to act is now. I would hope that all transportation leadership could get around a table, check their egos at the door and come up with a regional transit solution that will benefit all Georgians and have a positive impact on our state for generations to come.
State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta.