Metro Atlanta transit board to recommend projects for state funding

A regional board may recommend 18 transit projects for possible state funding next year.

The list includes a new bus rapid transit line in Atlanta, the rehabilitation of two MARTA stations, new transfer centers in Cobb and Gwinnet counties, and other improvements to the region’s transit system.

There’s no guarantee any of the projects will receive state funding. That decision lies with the governor’s office and the General Assembly.

The Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority unveiled the list of projects Thursday and is expected to approve a final list next month.

State lawmakers created the agency — known as the ATL Board for short — four years ago to oversee transit planning and construction in the 13-county Atlanta region. The goal is to fashion a more seamless transit system from the region’s alphabet soup of local transit systems.

The ATL Board created a regional transit plan in 2019 and has been tinkering with it ever since. In 2020, it selected nine projects for possible state funding and added to the list last year.

This year’s project list includes seven new projects:

  • New transit centers in South Cobb and Lawrenceville.
  • The “Corporate Crescent” personal transit system at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
  • The Summerhill bus rapid transit line in Atlanta.
  • Restroom improvements for MARTA stations, as well as a canine handling facility for security dogs the agency uses.
  • Replacement of transit vehicles across various local agencies.

The new projects join existing recommended projects such as the renovation of MARTA’s Five Points and Airport stations, Cumberland and Marietta bus transfer centers in Cobb, and new bus shelters and passenger amenities in Douglas County.

In all, the 18 projects would amount to a request for $367.6 million in state funding. The size of the figure led some board members to suggest scaling back the request before approving the final list in September.

Several board members questioned the largest request: $187 million for the proposed airport personal transit system, which would ferry passengers in small “pods” between the international and domestic terminals and other destinations. All the funding for the project — requested by the ATL Airport Community Improvement Districts — would come from the state.

ATL Board member Earl Ehrhart, a former legislator, called that “a big ask.” He also suggested any project recommended by the board should include funding from the agency requesting state money.

The board’s planning committee is expected to reexamine and possibly revise the proposed list later this month.

Though it spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on road and bridge construction, Georgia has historically spent little on public transportation. That’s begun to change in recent years.

Four years ago, lawmakers agreed to spend $100 million for bus rapid transit facilities along Ga. 400. Last year’s state budget included $6 million to help rehabilitate MARTA’s Bankhead station.

Two years ago lawmakers also approved a new fee on ride-hailing services to help pay for transit services across the state. The fee may generate about $15 million in revenue this year, though it could eventually grow to $40 million a year.

Funding for more substantial transit projects would likely have to be included in the state’s annual bond package.