Many of you may not be aware of a proposed tax increase to support a MARTA expansion further north on GA 400. Conventional wisdom might suggest such an expansion will significantly reduce traffic congestion and therefore is a no brainer.
However, before we dig deeper into our pockets to support an investment in a heavy rail extension with a price tag of $1.6 billion, I believe we need to weigh the challenges we face and the other available options.
The fundamental problem with heavy rail in metro Atlanta is that we have many work centers that are spread out with a system that fails to connect them. According to a Brookings Institution study, only 3.6 percent of the jobs in the metro Atlanta are readily accessible by mass transit: Even if you successfully move commuters from the suburbs via heavy rail, they still can’t readily reach their respective work centers. Extending rail north will not significantly impact this problem.
More than 53 percent of our traffic both originates and ends outside our borders. This trend will continue as the population around us continues to grow. Johns Creek will remain a pass-through community for those looking to drive to a MARTA rail station or choosing to drive directly to work. An expansion of MARTA rail won’t change those dynamics.
Regardless of whether heavy rail is extended, we must make significant road improvements that are currently planned. Improving our road networks will be beneficial to any final transit solution and every dollar taken away from roads projects today is a dollar lost to us.
So what are the options? As it turns out, there are many. Autonomous or driverless cars are here and will become mainstream; ridesharing will become more commonplace; and businesses such as Uber and Megabus will grow in popularity among millennials and other demographics. Managed lanes, managed arterials, and High Occupancy Toll lanes each contribute to reducing congestion and improving traffic flow. Improving the Intelligent Transportation System in the metro Atlanta area and synchronizing traffic lights will improve traffic flow on interior roadways as well as for ingress and egress to highways and interstates.
Transit studies specific to metro Atlanta, such as the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s
, outline innovative recommendations that should be considered.
We are watching these technologies and creative approaches to mass transit take hold around the country. Many communities and the federal government are taking notice. We should not be afraid to have this debate and use what is currently available to ensure that we are on the leading edge of the future of mass transit.
We are in the early stages of this conversation and I have already met with MARTA about working together to develop a metro Atlanta mass transit plan we can all support. Our respective staffs will meet soon for further dialogue.
I am also in the process of organizing a mass transit panel discussion to include notable think tanks, engineers, transit agencies, local governments, and private sector representatives. We will be sure to alert you once the panel discussion is set. Before we increase taxes, we must be sure we are going to invest those funds wisely in both the short- and long-term. Please feel free to contact us with any questions, concerns, or input you may have at email@example.com