MARTA's $8 billion expansion dream, if realized, would provide new access to transit for nearly 600,000 workers and could inject $5.2 billion into the region's economy, according to a new study released Tuesday by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Georgia Transportation Alliance.
The study, which was conducted by the transportation consulting firm HNTB, also found that for each dollar invested in transit, economic returns are quadrupled.
Furthermore, the transit expansions could generate 45,000 new jobs and $116 million in additional annual wages by 2040, according to the report titled Economic Benefits of Investing in Transit.
Ehren T. Bingaman, HNTB Director of Transportation Planning, told the Senate Transportation Committee that Atlanta was falling behind other peer cities like Dallas and Denver when it comes to transit investment.
"What we have seen in our evaluation is that there are tremendous benefits to the region (from investing in transit), therefore there are tremendous benefits to the state," Bingaman said.
The report comes amid discussions at the state Capitol over Senate Bill 313, which would let voters in DeKalb and Fulton counties choose to pay an additional half-percent sales tax to support a near doubling of MARTA's footprint in a referendum in either November 2016 or November 2017 elections.
With the estimated $4 billion that the sales tax would generate, and another $4 billion in federal matching funds, MARTA has said it could complete three major expansion projects. They include extending heavy rail north along Ga. 400 to Windward Parkway in Alpharetta and east along I-20 to the Mall at Stonecrest in Lithonia, as well as a light rail line connecting the Lindbergh and Avondale MARTA stations.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tommie Williams acknowledged that asking voters in Fulton and DeKalb, who already pay a one-percent sales tax for MARTA, to pony up an additional half-penny for 40 years is "a big ask."
"I'm not sure how warm the legislature is going to be to such a long period of time," Williams said.
But he added, "to me, it's the solution to solve transit in Atlanta and the fix has got to be in large portion MARTA."
Several other state lawmakers have objected to the bill for various reasons. To read more about MARTA's expansion plan and the General Assembly's reaction, see a list of story links below:
MARTA expansion bill faces tough climb: http://commuting.blog.ajc.com/2016/02/01/marta-expansion-bill-faces-tough-climb/
MARTA Chief presses for Atlanta transit expansion: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/marta-chief-presses-case-for-state-support-to-expa/npzRY/
MARTA expansion: Will Legislature go for half-cent hike? http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local/legislators-pondering-a-marta-expansion-referendum/npK4H/