Atlanta region’s leaders ask for unified mass transit

January 27, 2011 at 9:50 am Leave a comment

By Ariel Hart

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

6:01 p.m. Wednesday, January 26, 2011Local leaders from across the Atlanta region have asked the Legislature to form a regional mass transit agency to serve as an umbrella over the metro area’s various systems.

The legislators who hold the cards have said they don’t plan to do that this year. But the move at the Atlanta Regional Commission, pushed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, marks an important symbolic step in a region that historically has been known for its patchwork of transportation systems and its dissent on the issue of MARTA.

Reed, in a statement, called it “an important step forward and a sign of regional unity in our desire to create a truly world-class transit system for metro Atlanta.”

The ARC will deliver the suggested legislation to a committee chaired by Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, that a new law set up last year to decide what to do about regional mass transit.

Mass transit advocates had hoped the committee would take significant, fast action, setting up a regional system in 2011. If that were done, when voters are asked in 2012 to fund new projects in a transportation tax referendum the regional transit system already could be an established, well-known candidate for funds.

“It needs to get done as soon as possible” in order for referendum voters in Fulton and DeKalb counties to be convinced by 2012 that the region is serious about making a more seamless transit system, said Chick Krautler, director of the ARC.

However, Sheldon said last month that 2011 is not the year.

“This is a major investment in the community and so we need to take our time and be careful,” she said.

Marshall Guest, a spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston, said Wednesday House leaders still intended to wait.  “This doesn’t change what we’ve said previously,” he said. “We’re going to allow the governance commission to work.”

On the Senate side, Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said this week that there is no groundswell for major transit legislation this year.

In the proposed legislation, MARTA and other local systems like Cobb Community Transit could continue to exist under a new metropolitan transit authority. But when new money comes to transit, including revenues from the referendum if it is successful, the new authority would plan and spend those.

Individual counties would have representatives on the authority. But it would no longer take a county referendum, for example, to expand MARTA rail into Gwinnett County.

The proposed system is based on the model of Chicago’s transit system, according to ARC.

That system is not perfect, said Steve Schlickman, who formerly headed Chicago’s system and testified before Sheldon’s committee last year.  When the legacy systems continue to exist under the umbrella, some of the parochial rivalries may remain.

He said the ideal is one unified system, if that is politically possible.

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