MARTA’s plans for Atlanta include 29 miles of light rail, like this line in Minneapolis.

Opinion: A world-class city shouldn’t take decades to build new transit lines

Last week, a timeline for expanding MARTA in Atlanta cleared a major hurdle.

A committee of MARTA’s board of directors approved a timeline for spending of billions of dollars on improvements.

That’s good news, right?

Sort of.

Under the proposal, less expensive, locally funded projects, such as bus rapid transit lines, would be built first. But more expensive projects that rely on federal funding would come later – much later.

Consider the 29 miles of light-rail lines.

The first project – an extension of the Atlanta Streetcar east to Krog Street – would be open within a decade. But the full 29 miles of rail won’t be completed until after 2040.

Yes, 2040.

Supporters of mass transit who attended the meeting want things to move along faster. So, too, do some members of MARTA’s board of Directors, who still need to approve the plan. They acknowledge it’s important to find more money so that the agency can complete projects as quickly as possible.

As Robbie Ashe, the chairman of the MARTA committee, said: “As much money as this is, as incredible an investment as this represents, it still doesn’t fill the need, let alone the desire, for transit in the city of Atlanta.”

Ashe is correct.

The expansion is only possible because Atlanta voters approved a half-penny sales tax in 2016. The tax is expected to generate $2.7 billion over 40 years.

But Atlanta’s traffic issues aren’t going to wait 40 years. Each day, the commute, it seems, get worse.

Construction is an expensive and time-consuming process, and expanding MARTA is just one piece of solving the vexing riddle that is the region’s traffic woes.

But if Atlanta truly wants to become the world-class city that it deserves to be, it can’t wait until 2040.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.