OPINION: Transit expansion in Atlanta has left the station


The debate over transit expansion in Atlanta has left the station.

The City of Atlanta is moving full speed ahead on providing the world-class transportation options that its residents and businesses continue to support, and demand, in overwhelming fashion.

Last November, the sales-tax referendum on a $2.6 billion MARTA expansion passed with 71 percent approval. The accompanying T-SPLOST, which will raise an estimated $300 million for infrastructure projects, won a 68 percent majority.

Those are landslide margins. City residents are voting with their pocketbooks and businesses are voting with their feet in order to improve their lives and bottom lines by locating near transit.

The message is clear: Atlanta wants to be in the future business.

NCR, Honeywell, GE Digital, UPS, EquiFax and Anthem are moving into Atlanta or expanding their presence here. They all want convenient access to MARTA.

So does State Farm in Dunwoody and Mercedes-Benz in Sandy Springs.

For decades now, Atlanta’s investment in transportation infrastructure has set the city above our regional competitors. Our landmark decisions to invest in MARTA and Hartsfield-Jackson airport have been critical factors in building Metro Atlanta into the dominant economic and cultural engine of the Southeast.

In the last two years, Atlanta taxpayers have doubled down on that investment, beginning in March 2015 with approval of the Renew Atlanta Infrastructure Bond program, which is already delivering $250 million in infrastructure improvements in a timely and efficient manner.

We are fixing roads and bridges; engineering more than 30 miles of Complete Streets projects, including bicycle lanes; and synchronizing traffic signals.

Thanks to the city’s robust AA+ credit rating – its highest in 50 years — we are funding these improvements at historically low rates.

MARTA’s expansion means the potential is very real for new light-rail transit and flexible bus service that will connect with existing heavy rail and the Atlanta Streetcar.

Anti-transit voices often advocate for short-term fixes over long-term projects, like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) over heavy or light rail. We recognize that BRT is part of the solution. But there’s no question that our investments in rail have been a driving force in our region’s growing economy.

Yes, the Streetcar has had setbacks, but it’s also a new start-up system operating at 97 percent on-time efficiency.

The Streetcar’s proven ability to connect previously isolated corridors to economic opportunity should excite anyone hoping for positive outcomes in our city.

Since the Streetcar opened, it has served 1.3 million riders. More than $2.5 billion in economic activity has occurred within a five-minute walk of the line. This includes the $96 million Post Centennial Park, the first new residential property downtown for families and young professionals in 20 years.

The Streetcar’s eventual expansion will provide a link from downtown to the Atlanta Beltline for the 50 million annual visitors who make Atlanta the fourth most-visited city in America.

Detractors say the Streetcar doesn’t go far enough fast enough. That’s hardly a convincing argument for the future. The current 2.7-mile Streetcar loop is the first stake in the ground for a system that will connect more businesses and neighborhoods to a world-class transportation ecosystem.

Imagine if Atlanta leaders a half-century ago had ignored investments in transit and our airport because their reach seemed limited. What if they had hedged on our future and relied only on roads and the interstate highways for mobility?

The bottom line is that Georgia’s thriving capital city — known for such outrageous ideas as hosting the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games and building the Atlanta Beltline — has a track record for delivering. We know how to turn the most daring dreams into transformative reality.

Watch us go.



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