- The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) board of directors unanimously approved a plan to greatly expand transit within the region.
- The plan includes 17 projects that call for 22 miles of light rail, 14 miles of bus rapid transit (BRT), 26 miles of arterial rapid transit, more fixed-route bus service, two new transit centers and upgrades to existing rail stations.
- The expansion will be partially funded by a half-cent sales tax increase that voters approved in 2016, expected to bring in about $2.7 billion. MARTA still has to develop final cost estimates for the total of all the projects, but the Atlanta City Council previously released an $11 billion estimate, according to The Telegraph. MARTA will have to find additional funding sources to make up the difference between the sales tax funding and the actual cost.
Large scale transit investments have been a long time coming for Atlanta, to the extent that MARTA even called the new plan approval "historic." MARTA says this is the largest investment in the region's transit in more than 40 years.
The Atlanta metropolitan area covers a huge chunk of land and contains about 5.8 million people, whereas only about 475,000 live in the city itself. Residents of the metro region have been very car dependent, leading to the area's notorious traffic congestion.
Part of the reason cars have dominated the scene is that Atlanta's transportation system is far less robust than that of other major cities. The transit network that does exist mainly lies within the city's borders and doesn't adequately stretch into the suburbs where most of the population lives.
But that has been changing in recent years as the city has been putting effort into a more comprehensive, widespread transportation system. The Atlanta Streetcar opened in 2014 to a rocky start and a lot of criticism, but that has evened out since MARTA took over operations last year. This year MARTA entered a long-term contract with Siemens for predictive maintenance technology on the streetcar, while Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill creating a regional transit authority, with MARTA providing rail and bus service.
This spring, the city received $12.6 million in federal funding for the planned BRT system. That project will build a 9.4-mile system that would connect downtown and Midtown with the re-developing Summerhill neighborhood south of downtown. Providing transit to underserved areas from Summerhill and extending further outside of downtown also is a major focus in the newly approved transit plan.
“As Atlanta’s population grows, so must our investment in equitable and accessible transportation options," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement.