Spinning our Wheels

Spinning our Wheels is a commuting blog about the challenges of getting around Atlanta by car, bus, MARTA, bicycles and on foot written by transportation reporter David Wickert

Georgia Legislature considering regional transit study

State lawmakers want to use their off-season to come up with a regional transit solution -- one that might perhaps oversee or take the place of MARTA and the Atlanta region's other fragmented transit systems.

Two resolutions pending in the House and Senate (House Resolution 1605 and Senate Resolution 1085) could be voted on in coming days. They would create separate study committees to consider whether reforms are needed in existing transit systems and whether a comprehensive region-wide system should be established.

The resolutions were introduced after legislation that would have allowed for significant MARTA expansion (Senate Bill 330), paid for with a half-percent sales tax increase that would have to be approved by DeKalb and Fulton county voters, failed to pass the Senate last month. MARTA is still lobbying for a smaller version of that plan. It would involve passage of local legislation to allow transportation sales tax referendums in the city of Atlanta or DeKalb only (not unincorporated Fulton, as MARTA originally proposed, because elected officials in North Fulton county opposed a rail expansion).

The proposed transit study committees could proceed regardless of the outcome. Its members would hold meetings over the summer and fall, produce a report with recommendations and adjourn Dec. 1, 2016. The meetings of the two committees could be held jointly or separately, according to the wishes of its members, who will be appointed by House and Senate leadership respectively.

State Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, who introduced SR 1085, said MARTA expansion needs to wait another year while a study committee weighs a more comprehensive plan for transit.

“It’s not about MARTA or one or two corridors,” said Gooch, who is vice-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “It’s about regional transit for the entire metro area.”

State Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, who chairs the North Fulton delegation and introduced HR 1605, said creation of a new regional transit governance model is an option that should be investigated. Currently, the metro Atlanta region has four separate transit providers -- MARTA, which provides heavy rail and bus service in Fulton and DeKalb; Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which provides Xpress bus service from the suburbs to major job centers; and Cobb Community Transit and Gwinnett County Transit, which provide local bus service.

The House committee also will determine whether one comprehensive regional transit plan would be more beneficial to the state than a county-by-county or city-by-city approach like MARTA is taking. The committee would hear from stakeholders in the business community, transit providers, and residents, and would consider different modes of transit for the region including bus rapid transit, light rail, heavy rail and local bus service.

"I would want to make sure that we included all the groups, not just have MARTA drive the train," said Martin. "We need to look at all modalities."

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