Opinion: Metro Atlanta making great strides in improving mobility

The recent passage of legislation creating a regional transit authority in metro Atlanta is one of the most significant steps ever taken to improve transportation in our region. As a result, we’ll be able to better connect communities and employment centers, improve quality of life, and ensure our long-term economic competitiveness.

As we mark this historic moment, it’s important to understand how transit fits into the region’s overall transportation plan and also mark the tremendous progress that’s already being made to improve mobility across metro Atlanta.

The region’s long-range transportation plan acknowledges we can’t build our way out of congestion. No region can. In many ways, congestion is a byproduct of a healthy economy.

But that doesn’t mean things can’t improve. A balanced approach – a mix of carefully targeted road and highway improvements, expanded transit options, and increased opportunities to get around by walking and bicycling – can make a real difference.

Our region is moving forward on all of these fronts. Indeed, billions of dollars are being invested over the next few years to improve our transportation network.

I’ll delve into details in a moment. But first, I’d like to discuss what’s fueling these investments: significant new funding streams at both the state and local level.

State funding has effectively doubled the amount of funding available each year for transportation projects to about $2 billion, thanks to the vision and leadership of our Legislature and Gov. Nathan Deal. In addition, this year’s budget includes $100 million dedicated for transit projects, the largest state investment in transit in Georgia’s history.

Meanwhile, voters in counties across metro Atlanta have approved sales tax increases that provide funding for local transportation projects, including an expansion of the MARTA tax in the city of Atlanta.

Taken together, these investments show that our region is committed to doing what’s needed to keep up with growth and ensure our long-term economic competitiveness.

A transformation is underway. Dozens of major projects are under construction or in the planning stages, in line with our region’s long-range transportation plan, developed by the Atlanta Regional Commission in close collaboration with local governments and state and regional transportation agencies. This plan has four main elements:

  • Express lanes: The Georgia Department of Transportation is building a comprehensive network of express toll lanes on area highways that offer a free-flowing, reliable trip – even in rush hour, for those who pay a toll or ride in a transit vehicle. About 24 miles are now open, and plans call for building more than 141 miles of additional express lanes across the region.
  • Transit expansion: The region's transit network is expanding to provide better access to major employment centers and greater choice for area commuters. MARTA is planning to add rail service in Clayton County and expand coverage in the city of Atlanta, while suburban systems are expanding hours of operation. And the establishment of the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority sets the stage for potential expansion across the region.
  • Improvements to major roads and interchanges: Carefully targeted investments are being made to address the region's worst choke points and improve safety. Highway interchanges are being rebuilt, such as the I-285/Georgia 400 interchange, one of the nation's busiest, while dozens of major arterials are being widened, from Ga. Highway 20 in Cherokee County to Ga. 155 in Henry County.
  • Multi-use trails: Metro Atlanta's already extensive network of multi-use trails is set for a major expansion. About 800 miles of new bicycle and pedestrian trail are on the way, offering new ways to get around the region.

As you can see, momentum is building in metro Atlanta. These strategic investments will help improve commutes, offer more transportation options, and provide greater access to jobs and services – making our region an even better place to live, work, and play.

Kerry Armstrong is board chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission.