Expansion Of A Regional Transit System

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ATLANTA,None —

Is getting rid of MARTA a recipe for moving Atlanta forward? Leaders backing the 1 cent sales tax to fund transportation projects believe our mass transit needs a complete overhaul, possibly even a new name. Channel 2 Action News anchor Justin Farmer spoke with MARTA CEO Beverly Scott about what she thinks.

Farmer asked Scott, "Is this a turning point for our region? Is it that big?"

"It's big, It's that big!" replied Scott.

Scott told Farmer that it is time to put ego aside and consider the implications of expanding the mass transit service. "I'll be very honest with you, I think we must," said Scott.

From Scott to Mayor Kasim Reed to business leaders across metro Atlanta, many argue that voters need to pass the special 1 cent sales tax next year. That tax would provide for billions of dollars in transportation funding.

"I root for the region, so I am a different kind of leader in terms of believing it's wonderful wherever people live," said Reed.

Right now metro county leaders, including those far outside I-285, are whittling down a list of projects that will eventually be on the ballot next year. A huge marketing campaign will be waged and part of that campaign may very well do away with the name MARTA.

It's governing body would look different and handle a much larger system. A new regional transit system would provide service to more counties surrounding Atlanta, getting thousands of drivers out of their cars.

"If the projects will impact their lives and reduce traffic congestion and improve mobility, I think it will pass," said Kelly McCutchen, president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

"If we just chose to put feel good projects and large boondoggles on the ballot, I don't think it has much of a chance," said McCutchen.

McCutchen and other influential leaders know the agreed upon projects must have a widespread appeal to include road and rail. The real challenge is getting metro Atlantans to feel like a yes to transportation is a win for everyone.

"Well, I think rather than saying MARTA expanding, what we really need to be talking about is a truly regional transit system, whatever we might call it. I think the No. 1 destination that a lot of people have is Hartsfield. How can I get from Duluth, or Kennesaw to Hartsfield," said Sam Williams of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

"Just rooting for all of the communities that are part of the region, because that is the future for us," said Reed.

There will be some serious debate as the roundtable of leaders tries to agree on what projects should make it to the ballot.

Those who know big cities and moving people say Atlanta better get it right and invest in it's future.

Farmer asked Scott, "Do we need to make this a home run? What hangs in the balance? Or economic viability?"

"Oh, absolutely," replied Scott.

The roundtable plans to have the final transportation list done in October. Next July, the final vote of the entire metro Atlanta region will decide whether the bill passes.