- Public transportation in the Atlanta region will be governed by one transit agency after Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, R, signed a bill last week creating the Atlanta Region Transit Link Authority (ATL).
- Under the ATL, the 13 counties that make up the metropolitan Atlanta region can better coordinate regional transit planning and will allow counties to ask voters for a 1% sales tax to finance transit projects in their communities. It is also charged with producing a regional transportation plan.
- The bill unifies the patchwork of transit systems that make up the counties in the Atlanta region, with MARTA to provide regional train service and bus service to be put out to bid. The region’s transit systems will operate under the ATL brand by 2023.
This legislation and its endorsement by Deal represents a major step forward for transportation planning in Atlanta, which has been dogged for years by counties having competing systems. Meanwhile, areas such as Cobb and Gwinnett Counties have traditionally resisted joining MARTA to avoid being linked to downtown Atlanta over fears of crime spreading to their suburbs. And its timing arguably couldn't be better, with Amazon having shortlisted the city for its HQ2 and having emphasized the need for effective and efficient public transportation for its workers.
In a statement, Deal said the metro area is projected to add another 2.5 million residents by 2040, so the ATL is needed to provide a "coordinated, streamlined and unified approach to prepare for the future of metro Atlanta and the surrounding communities." And that increased population has already forced political leaders to look to the future as they issued a request for proposals to advance a smart city "strategic infrastructure initiative," and a 27-acre "mini-city” is planned for downtown.
Perhaps one stumbling block could be the new 16-member board, made up of citizen representatives from 10 new and specially-created Transit Districts that will be chosen by local elected officials, as well as one mayor, two board members appointed by the Speaker of the Georgia House, two appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the non-voting commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Transportation. With so many people on the board, there is the possibility it could become unwieldy, as competing interests and constituencies battle one another for dominance, so it will be imperative that every member pulls together for the good of the region.
This new regional authority, in addition to $100 million Deal allocated in bonds in the state’s FY2019 budget to fund public transportation, represents a historic step forward for Atlanta, which has notorious traffic congestion issues and has been slow to adopt public transportation. And elected officials hope it can spur further economic development, as well as force the region to work more collaboratively to find solutions. "This legislation provides the framework for the region to come together to provide our citizens the opportunity to cross jurisdictional lines in seamless, efficient, clean and most of all safe method when riding transit," state Sen. Brandon Beach, R, said in a statement.