Board mulls metro Atlanta transit projects for state funding

A regional board has developed a list of nine projects that could be candidates for long-sought state funding of public transportation.

The list includes hundreds of millions of dollars of projects from across metro Atlanta. Among them: construction of several bus rapid transit lines, the rehabilitation of MARTA stations and construction of new park-and-ride lots.

The Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority must still narrow the list to a handful of projects recommended for state funding. And given the state’s pandemic-induced financial problems, there’s no guarantee that funding will come.

But the list represents another potential milestone for transit expansion in metro Atlanta — and could pave the way for more state investment as the economy and budgets improve.

“While the current situation is (financially) constrained, we are hoping that won’t be the case every single year,” said Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, a member of the transit board. “We want to create credibility with the success of projects we put up early.”

Metro Atlanta officials have long sought state funding for local transit projects. But for decades the General Assembly has been skeptical.

That’s changed in recent years as Atlanta’s world-class traffic mess has gotten worse and as major corporations sought to locate near MARTA rail lines.

Two years ago legislators set aside $100 million for bus rapid transit facilities on Ga. 400 in north Fulton County. And they created the regional transit board — dubbed the “ATL Board” for short — to oversee planning and funding.

Last year the board approved a 13-county transit expansion plan with some 200 projects. Now it’s preparing a short list of projects for potential state funding next year.

On Thursday the ATL Board’s staff unveiled nine projects under consideration.

The list includes MARTA’s Summerhill bus rapid transit line in Atlanta and a similar Clayton County line from Southlake Mall to the College Park MARTA station. And it includes bus rapid transit in express lanes along the top half of the Perimeter.

In Cobb County, the list includes technology that gives buses priority at traffic signals, a Cumberland transfer center and construction of sidewalks, curbs and ramps for the disabled along local bus routes.

The list includes rehabilitation of existing MARTA tracks and stations, as well as two new park-and-ride lots along Ga. 316 in Gwinnett County.

ATL Board officials say the list was compiled using criteria for projects to be included in the state’s bond package. Those criteria favor projects likely to be completed in the near term — 85% of the money must be spent within five years.

The ATL Board now must consider its own priorities as it finalizes its recommendation.

The staff has proposed three different mixes of projects. One would emphasize geographic equity. Another emphasizes getting the biggest bang for the state’s buck. A third focuses on repairs to existing infrastructure.

The board may recommend three or four of the projects to Gov. Brian Kemp and state lawmakers, who will have the final say next year.