BRADENTON, Fla. – The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority could pursue a portion of its $8 billion expansion plan under terms of a bill Georgia legislators passed shortly before adjourning.
The Senate voted 43-5 to approve a compromise version of Senate Bill 369 shortly before the annual session closed in the early morning hours on Friday.
The bill, now headed to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal, would allow Atlanta voters to decide in November on increasing the sales tax up to a half-cent for the commuter transit system.
MARTA already benefits from a one-cent sales tax collected in its territory, which also includes Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton counties.
Transit system officials had supported much broader legislation for its $8 billion capital plan that would have raised the sales tax by an additional cent in all three counties.
Robbie Ashe, chairman of MARTA’s board of directors, said Monday that he is thrilled with the bill that passed because it provides an opportunity to address the transportation system within Atlanta’s city limits.
“This would allow us to radically transform our rail network and general service map in Atlanta,” he said. “In terms of raw dollars, assuming the referendum passes, it would provide approximately $60 million more per year but the tax will last for 40-plus years.”
The funding for the Atlanta portion of the plan would be leveraged with bonds, and bolstered with federal funds, Ashe said, adding the agency will not give up on expansion plans outside the city, although it will require additional legislation next year.
“This bill allows us to go to voters for approval for what will be the largest expansion of MARTA in the system’s history,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who thanked lawmakers for resurrecting a bill that nearly died before lawmakers reached a compromise.
Reed said Atlantans have shown support for transportation funding in past referendums, and more recently by approving general obligation bonds for the city’s capital projects.
“By focusing on expanding the MARTA system through light rail along the Atlanta BeltLine and in other parts of our city, we will address last-mile connectivity making this a transit system that works for everyone, for every day,” he said.
Atlanta is one of few major cities in the region with heavy rail infrastructure, and the funding bill approved by lawmakers will allow the addition of light rail, Reed said.
The MARTA board meets April 12 and will receive a report on the bill as well as a draft project list that is required to be approved by the Atlanta City Council prior to setting the referendum in November.
SB369 also authorizes Fulton County to raise its sales tax up to three-quarters of a penny for five years, if approved in a referendum.
The short-term tax would fund transportation projects, although those could include transit.