Bus Rapid Transit Could Be Compromise For MARTA Expansion

Feb 1, 2016

A bill to be filed in the Georgia legislature could direct billions in tax dollars to MARTA for an unprecedented expansion, according to sponsor Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta.

The bill would effectively tweak the billion-dollar transportation legislation passed last year. It would allow MARTA counties to allocate a half-penny sales tax, after voter approval, for a proposed heavy rail line along Georgia-400, heavy rail and bus rapid transit east along Interstate-20 and light rail near Emory University.

“The money has to be spent on capital construction -- not operations and maintenance or anything else,” Beach said. "It's going to go towards building new infrastructure."

And it’s money that could otherwise go to road and bridge projects, which doesn't sit well with some local leaders in Alpharetta and Johns Creak and in the Georgia legislature. There are other obstacles, too.

First, Beach has to push the bill through the Senate, and then the -- potentially more resistant -- House.

Sen. John Albers, a Republican also from North Fulton, has said he’s against MARTA rail expansion.

“The people overwhelmingly tell me they do not want a heavy rail solution forced upon them ...” he wrote in a post on his personal website. “Expanding a heavy rail line is not operationally, financially or logistically feasible. However, adding additional lanes to GA-400 first and then exploring a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) solution can provide a reasonable solution at a fraction of the cost, time and impact.”

Part of Albers’ request has been answered. More lanes along GA-400 were included in a $10 billion list of road and bridge projects unveiled by Governor Nathan Deal and the Georgia Department of Transportation earlier this month.

Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, who’s most concerned with traffic on GA-400, has said he would prefer BRT to MARTA rail.  

“Light rail and BRT have been somewhat dismissed,” he said last year, “where I see that being flexible and much less expensive.”

Beach and MARTA have put their efforts towards a heavy rail line along GA-400, yet Beach said he’s “okay with Bus Rapid Transit.”

He added: “I think some of these local elected officials think BRT doesn’t cost anything. You’re talking $1.4 billion. You’re still going to need some funding to do BRT. Now, granted, the heavy rail is about $2.3 billion. But I want to emphasize, bus rapid transit is not free. It costs money.”

BRT could require a smaller percentage of Fulton County’s potential penny sales tax. Leaders there are leaning toward allowing only a quarter of that penny to go MARTA.

Although Beach says his bill will call for half of the penny, he’s met with Fulton County officials and says he would be open to lowering that percentage.

Beach also says his bill would preserve city control of zoning around MARTA stations, an answer to concerns of local politicians.

He will be looking for signatures on Monday, and hopes to officially file the bill Monday or Tuesday.

The bill was expected last week, but was held up because of rules requiring notice of local bills to be printed in newspapers before they’re filed.