Monday, April 18, 2011

Transit Expansion in Metro Atlanta?

The AJC recently ran a very surprising story about transportation funding requests from Metro Atlanta jurisdictions.  "Surprising" because more than half of the local government funding requests (which would be paid out of a proposed regional sales tax) seek money for transit rather than road projects.

Indeed, some area communities that have consistently resisted the expansion of transit into their jurisdiction (like Cobb County) have now changed their tune.

Could it be that rising congestion and energy costs are making transit-oriented development more desirable?  

Probably so.

More than half of the $22.8 billion in formal applications, $13.5 billion, were mass transit projects, compared with $8.5 billion in road projects, according to ARC. An additional list of projects with fuzzier cost estimates adds billions more of both roads and transit. All dollar values in the list still need cleaning up, and in the following weeks ARC officials say they are likely to weed out more overlap between projects, which could bring the figures down significantly.

As things stand, the region could not build the entire list of mass transit requests under this referendum. Currently the transit requests are nearly double the amount of money expected to come from the tax. Furthermore, the region has already set a general guideline to spend a lot of the tax on roads and other projects. And the simple fact is that the vast majority of metro Atlantans — the voters who will make the final decision — choose to travel primarily by car.

However, green-lighting even one of the train lines into a suburban county could change the regional landscape as we know it, showing that suburban demographics and culture have changed, too. Efforts to expand MARTA rail into Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton met stony resistance in past decades. Now, floods of newcomers in those counties, including many from cities with rail systems, have shifted attitudes.

On a related note:  this past Saturday, I took my Smart Growth Law seminar course on a "site visit" trip to Atlanta.  We met at the Atlanta airport and walked to the MARTA station inside the airport.  From there, I divided the students into groups of 3 and sent them out onto MARTA with an all-day ticket and a straightforward assignment:

Imagine you live in Atlanta and do not have a car.  Identify which MARTA stops you could live at and meet your daily needs within walking distance of the station which you live near or another station that you could reach via MARTA.  After you've found these options, analyze their zoning and other regulations (federal, state, local) that result in this situation.

Chad Emerson

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