From transit to potholes: Mayoral candidates cite top Atlanta transportation issues

MARTA plans light rail along the Atlanta Beltline, the Clifton Corridor and Campbellton Road. Transit expansion is just one of the transportation issues confronting Atlanta's next mayor. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

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MARTA plans light rail along the Atlanta Beltline, the Clifton Corridor and Campbellton Road. Transit expansion is just one of the transportation issues confronting Atlanta's next mayor. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

MARTA is on the verge of a major expansion in Atlanta. Some city streets are riddled with potholes and steel plates. And the next mayor must juggle transportation issues ranging from regional transit to neighborhood crosswalks.

Talk of crime has dominated the Atlanta mayor’s race so far. But transportation has been a perennial concern for area residents. And developments in Washington have raised the stakes of the current mayor’s race when it comes to transportation issues.

ExploreAtlanta residents: What are your transportation priorities?

President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress are determined to approve more than $1 trillion of new infrastructure spending in the coming weeks. A chunk of that money would flow to state and local governments, and the next mayor will help decide how it gets spent in Atlanta.

“Leadership is about setting priorities and helping shift those buckets (of funding) to where you think they should be,” said Joseph Hacker, a transportation planning expert at Georgia State University. “Where does it go? How do we use it? Is there money we can go after?”

ExploreComplete coverage: Atlanta Mayor’s Race 2021

With that in mind, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked the top five mayoral candidates to discuss their transportation priorities. City Councilman Antonio Brown, City Council President Felicia Moore and former Mayor Kasim Reed agreed to be interviewed. City Councilman Andre Dickens and attorney Sharon Gay submitted written responses.

The candidates share some priorities, though they have different ideas on how to pay for them. Here are summaries of each candidate’s comments:

Antonio Brown

Brown’s transportation priorities include establishing a traffic command center to manage signal synchronization, the movement of emergency vehicles and other traffic needs. He also supports more protected bike lanes, MARTA’s plans for a bus rapid transit network and light rail on the Atlanta Beltline.

“We need the light rail,” Brown said. “We should have already had it at this point.”

To help fund needed improvements, Brown has proposed a $250 million workforce development bond to pay residents living wages to work on Atlanta’s transportation, technology and infrastructure needs. He said the city could also leverage the bond to secure federal and state funding for transportation improvements.

“It’s one thing to have great ideas,” he said. “It’s another to have a plan of execution to ensure those great ideas can come to fruition and there is funding in place to sustain those ideas.”

Brown said he’s the best candidate to address transportation issues because he’s an outsider with no ties to any interest group.

Andre Dickens

Dickens’ top transportation priority is streamlining the procurement process to address a backlog of projects. In the short term, he said Atlanta should focus on small projects with a big impact, including sidewalks within a mile of all schools, transit stops and senior centers.

In the long run, he wants public transit to be free in Atlanta by 2030. He would subsidize transit for seniors, students, people with disabilities and city employees before making it free for everyone.

“Free public transit would have a massive impact on equity in the city and help us to combat climate change,” he said.

Dickens would impose fees for parking spaces to discourage driving and to generate revenue for transit. Among other things, he also said he would seek private investment and make the most of Biden’s “once-in-a-generation infrastructure package” to support projects such as the Beltline.

He cited his experience as a Georgia Tech-trained engineer and his four-year tenure as chairman of the City Council’s transportation committee. He sponsored the legislation establishing Atlanta’s transportation department.

Sharon Gay

Gay said her priorities include smaller neighborhood projects that can have a big impact immediately, as well as coordinating with MARTA and other regional partners on larger transit and transportation projects.

“We need a transportation system that employs multiple modes, including transit, bike lanes and sidewalks to reduce vehicle dependency and give our residents better access to jobs, housing and services,” she said.

Gay does not contemplate levying additional local taxes for transportation. Instead, she wants to “be strategic about using impact fees, bond proceeds and transportation sales taxes” and to restore effective partnerships with community improvement districts. She said she would work closely with Georgia’s congressional delegation and state officials to secure transportation funding.

She said she spent more than 20 years in transportation and transit policy and planning. She said she helped create the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and served on its board. And she chaired an intercity committee on how to bring passenger and commuter rail to the region.

“I have a track record of shepherding complex projects and I will bring that experience to the mayor’s office,” she said.

Felicia Moore

Moore said her transportation priorities include light rail on the Beltline, which she called “a long overdue promise.” She also wants to ensure MARTA works for people who rely on public transportation.

“Those are the people who are the backbone of the system because they need it,” she said.

Moore said focusing on the needs of transit-dependent riders means using smaller buses to serve neighborhoods, so customers don’t have to walk a mile to a bus stop. She also wants to make MARTA more convenient and appealing for people who have cars.

She said federal funding can pay for additional transit service. She said that would reduce traffic on streets, improve air quality and make Atlanta more sustainable. “It’s all connected,” she said.

Moore said a variety of government experiences make her the best candidate to address transportation issues. Through her work on the City Council, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the National League of Cities she said she has developed relationships with leaders across the country that can benefit Atlanta.

Kasim Reed

Reed said his transportation priorities include renewing the 0.4% transportation sales tax that Atlanta voters approved in 2016. He also would focus on fixing potholes and repairing city streets. He said good road maintenance is important to gain public support for bigger projects, such as transit expansion.

He supports light rail on the Atlanta Beltline, on Campbellton Road and along the Clifton Corridor. He said the Clifton route from MARTA’s Lindbergh station to the area around Emory University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is key to funding rail on the Beltline. He said revenue from real estate development rights around Clifton Corridor transit stations can help pay for Beltline rail.

Reed also supports high-speed rail from Atlanta to Savannah, with a stop in Macon. He called it the kind of “big project and big aspiration” that Atlanta needs.

He said he’s the best candidate because he’s already done the job. While mayor, he said he worked with the Obama administration and Georgia Republicans to secure federal funding for a variety of projects. Among the projects he supported were the Port of Savannah and the Atlanta Streetcar.

“The best indication of what someone will do in an important job is what they have done,” Reed said.


Why we’re writing this story

This article is one of several stories The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will publish that examines the key issues in the Atlanta mayor’s race. For more on our comprehensive election coverage, please visit https://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta-mayors-race-2021/.