Is MARTA's $8 billion pitch a great idea or a boondoggle?
It's been no secret this summer that more commuters in the Atlanta metro area have been expressing their desire to support mass transit. While that may be true of commuters in many U.S. cities, there's no doubt that things have been heating up on this issue. Enter MARTA - known locally as the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority - has been operating in the counties of Fulton and DeKalb with rail and bus service. While certainly large in their own respects, Fulton and DeKalb are just two counties in a massive region. MARTA just made an $8 billion dollar pitch to expand its rail and bus services beyond its current service areas. In other words, MARTA rail and bus serve a limited area. Some are cheering the ambitious proposal while others are scoffing at the idea.
One might say that the Atlanta metro area is at a tipping point. Should the outlying counties join the MARTA system or for some counties, expand their rather limited bus service system that hooks into MARTA? That is the proverbial question that counties like Cobb, Gwinnett, Fayette and others are starting to ask. So what should be done? Should these counties say, "Look, if you don't wish to live in your vehicles, you're going to have to pay higher taxes, support local option sales taxes, pay user fees and support bond projects. " Those are bitter pills for the public to swallow, but many agree that something ought to be done. MARTA's proposal is just the beginning of the attempt to solve this problem.
Some folks like Gwinnett County's Jack Snyder is trying to do something about the Atlanta metro area's traffic woes. Snyder set up an organization called Gwinnett Needs Mass Transit. Writing in the Gwinnett Forum on July 21, 2015, Snyder cites the fact that offering mass transit attracts major companies to relocate to the Atlanta metro region. Why? Because companies know that they are hiring members of the Millennial generation. The Millennial generation includes those who are currently around 15-35 years of age, give or take a few years - it's still debated if the generation started in 1980 and ends around 2000. Also known as Generation Y, "Millennials" have shown that they're not too crazy about driving. Since they are 76 million strong according to TechTarget.com, small businesses to large corporations are hiring them as the Baby Boomers go further into their senior years and Generation X members see retirement on the horizon. I know Gen X'ers, that's beyond creepy to think about these days.
Folks like Jack Snyder say that if metro areas like Atlanta wish to compete, they need to expand mass transit to serve Millennials who wish to live-work-play without having to sit in traffic. Snyder set up a GoFundMe account to help get mass transit in Gwinnett County which is about 20-plus miles north of Atlanta.
Many could argue that MARTA's expansions should have happened more than two decades ago to keep up with the region's sprawl. Incredibly long story short: the outlying counties did not wish to join the system for many reasons in addition to the expansion's costs. MARTA rail expansion was put to a vote a few times in Gwinnett County over the years. Voters balked at the idea and today, the county is paying the price in the form of gridlock and inferior air quality. Ironically, the current $8 billion dollar proposal does not expand the Gold Line which would have been the route to go into Gwinnett County. In this proposal, the south-side of the area, receives a nice rail treatment going well into Clayton County and the cities of Jonesboro and Lovejoy. Many companies are going into the north-side of the area which will certainly satisfy "Millennials" who could have a choice of housing and work along that MARTA line.
Whether you live in the Atlanta metro region, is this $8 billion proposal a good idea or a boondoggle?