House speaker wants transit funding answers

Fulton County is considering pushing for MARTA expansion, and wants input from municipal officials

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Fulton County is considering pushing for MARTA expansion, and wants input from municipal officials

House Speaker David Ralston moved to put his stamp on the future of transit in Georgia on Thursday, as he and other leading lawmakers vow to move the state forward an increasingly important issue.

Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, earlier this month announced plans to create the Georgia Transit Governance and Funding Commission, and legislation creating the organization is expected to be filed in the House Thursday.

A similar measure was introduced in the Senate this week. Both measures create commissioners charged under state law to study ways to grow, integrate, govern and fund transit in Georgia, whether that be rail or bus.

The Senate bill sets a soft Dec. 31, 2018 deadline for a report, with options for more time, while the House legislation requires a report by the end of this year, according to a drat of the bill obtained by the AJC.

Senate Bill 6 would create the Georgia Regional Transit Council, which would develop a statewide plan for a “seamless transportation network with dependable trip times for commuters.” The plan would explore topics like limited access highways, road congestion relief, safety enhancements and “plans for a future of transportation innovations,” according to the legislation.

The House bill, which does not yet have a number, requires commission members to include a “unified regional governance structure” for any mass transportation system operating in metropolitan areas of the state.

Ralston spokesman Kaleb McMichen said his boss wants to “integrate transit into state transportation moving forward on a statewide, comprehensive basis.”

For decades mass transit has been a polarizing political issue in Georgia. Cobb and Gwinnett counties refused to join MARTA and ultimately started their own local and express bus services. Georgia remains one of the few states that provides no regular funding for mass transit.

But with corporations like Mercedes-Benz and State Farm building major facilities along MARTA lines, political attitudes have begun to change. Lawmakers have signaled they’d consider investing in mass transit to help solve Atlanta’s traffic congestion and boost economic development.

Last month a Senate committee recommended that the state hire a consultant to study the particulars of a new regional transit model. The idea is to consolidate local agencies or at least improve coordination among them.

Staff writers Dave Wickert and Greg Bluestein contributed.