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

MARTA bill may be back from the dead

Hopes faded for passage of a bill to allow for a significant MARTA expansion last week after the sponsor of the legislation declared it dead.

But dead never really means dead in the General Assembly. And it became clear Wednesday that the idea behind Senate Bill 330 still has a chance at life, albeit in a new form.

Representatives for MARTA on Wednesday spoke to the Atlanta delegation of state legislators at the Capitol. Chairman Robbie Ashe said lawyers for the transit authority are trying to figure out a way to introduce a separate bill that would allow just the city of Atlanta, and perhaps DeKalb County, to vote on whether to pay an additional half-percent sales tax increase.

"We are looking for continued ways forward," said Robbie Ashe. "We have not given up."

The plan would most likely involve breaking into pieces the original bill, which included DeKalb, Fulton and the city of Atlanta.

MARTA may ask a lawmaker to introduce a piece of local legislation that applies only to the half-percent sales tax sought in the city of Atlanta. Local legislation is not subject to Crossover Day rules, so it could still get a vote in both chambers even though this year's session is nearing an end, said Ashe.

The revenue from the proposed sales tax increase would be used to fund major expansion projects only within the city of Atlanta. It's unclear what those projects would be. The three major rail expansion projects MARTA has been pursuing were situated primarily in North Fulton and DeKalb.

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Ashe said that the project list would be developed with the input of the Atlanta City Council.

Another option to keep the proposal alive, according to Ashe, is to insert the bill's language into an existing piece of legislation in the House in order to bring the issue to the floor for a vote.

Members of the powerful Rules Committee in the Senate blocked a vote on SB 330 on Friday after raising concerns about the plan.

The idea to keep MARTA's expansion plans alive seemed to find a receptive audience in the Atlanta delegates in the House. State Rep. Pat Gardner, D-Atlanta, who heads the delegation, expressed frustration with leaders in the Senate who blocked the bill and said she wanted to find a solution to keep transit expansion an option for voters in her district.

"If you talk to any of my constituents, what do they want us to fix? Transit." Gardner said.

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