The political battle is just beginning over MARTA’s request, filed in the Gold Dome Feb. 1, to seek an additional half-penny sales tax from DeKalb and Fulton voters on the November ballot.
But whatever happens, a new era of regionally-minded transportation planning seems to be dawning in parts of Fulton County.
Fulton Chairman John Eaves has been convening a group of Fulton mayors for several months to hash out a possible menu of road and mass transit projects to put before voters. And Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul has said he’s asked City Manager John McDonough to gather staff from various Fulton cities to talk about the nitty-gritty of regional projects.
“I think you’re going to see something miraculous this year” as the mayors collaborate on a possible transportation funding package to send to voters, Eaves said at a recent meeting of the Buckhead Coalition.
“The Fulton County Commission, I give them credit,” Paul said in an interview last fall, when the meetings were just beginning. “They’re taking leadership in getting everyone at the table.”
Under existing legislation, DeKalb and Fulton can ask voters to approve a special local option sales tax of up to 1 penny on the November ballot for transportation projects. The tax would sunset in five years.
The MARTA proposal—filed by state Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta)—would devote up to half of that penny to MARTA for more than 40 years, to match the lifetime of the transit agency’s existing 1 penny tax.
MARTA says the additional SPLOST money could fund extension of the Red Line to Alpharetta, including a new Northridge station in Sandy Springs; a light rail connection through the Emory University area between Buckhead’s Lindbergh station and the Blue Line’s Avondale station; and a rail extension along I-20 to Lithonia.
Political opinion varies on whether MARTA should get more SPLOST funds and if so, how much. Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker has been skeptical. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed backs the half-penny and “will not support any proposal that does not fund transit, which our region needs to grow and prosper,” according to city of Atlanta spokeswoman Jenna Garland.
Paul supports the MARTA expansion and has been discussing SPLOST options with other Fulton mayors. He declined to comment on the state of those talks, saying it’s too early for details.
But in previous interviews and reports at City Council meetings, Paul has talked about the importance of regional planning and finding a compromise mix of road and mass transit projects that voters would approve because they would actually use them.
“As [poet] John Donne said, we’re not an island among ourselves,” Paul said in an interview last fall. And, he said, elected officials need to bridge the gap between the existing short-term SPLOST vision and MARTA’s long-term plans.
“We’ve got to get them both on the same page…[in a] comprehensive, rational plan,” he said.