Thoughts

  • Dave

A look at the More MARTA proposal and what's to come

Updated: Aug 16, 2018

Spending public dollars is difficult. Inevitably, multiple constituencies with different goals and priorities will aim to shape discussion and decisionmaking . Sometimes those constituencies have overlapping priorities, but often do not. The same is true for transit planning. Every dollar spent on one project is a dollar not spent on another project, which makes for tough decisions. However, understanding the decisionmaking process can be difficult.


Atlanta’s More MARTA program is a huge step in the right direction for Atlanta’s transportation system.. That being said, we only have $2.5 billion to spend. While a decent amount of money, $2.5 billion isn’t all that large in terms of transit improvements in big cities. In the same year that the More MARTA referendum was approved, LA and Seattle approved sales taxes to raise $120 billion and $27.7 billion, respectively (if you’re a nerd like me, check out the Eno Center for Transportation’s database of transit referenda and Yonah Freemark’s summary of 2016 transit referenda).


Over the next few weeks, I plan to post a few pieces here detailing my take on the More MARTA program. I plan to write three posts on the following:

· Where is our money going?

· How many people are expected to use the new services?

· Where I think we should spend the More MARTA money


Much of the recent debate has been around whether to fund the full BeltLine loop or not. The BeltLine-and other light rail investments are critical, but there are many other important aspects of the More MARTA program, many of which can fundamentally change our city. My analysis will cover the entire program and look at how and where we are spending these precious dollars.


First, a brief introduction to the More MARTA program's objectives. It has several primary purposes: building new transit lines (e.g. BeltLine rail and Clifton Corridor) and services (e.g. neighborhood circulators), building new transit stops and stations, purchasing new vehicles (“rolling stock”), and increasing service on already popular routes.

As I noted above, there are an estimated $2.5 billion in local funds that Atlanta will levy using the new sales tax. In theory, those local funds will be supplemented by federal funds, which generally match local funding of capital projects on a 1:1 basis. These matching funds effectively increase the impact of every local dollar spent, and local agencies typically pursue them through the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants Program. These matching funds are usually reserved for building new transit lines, rather than increasing frequency or building new stations. Most large light rail projects included in the More MARTA program assume federal matching funds. There are a few exceptions, but more on that later.


I hope that you find these analyses informative and helpful. If you have any specific questions or topics that you’d like me to dig into, feel free to send me an email at davidederer@gatech.edu.

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© 2018 by Dave Ederer.