Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said north Fulton County residents have been paying the local sales tax for MARTA for decades.
And what does it have to show for it in Johns Creek? No train station and neglected roads.
"If we invested that same money in congestion-relieving road projects versus transit, which is going to have the greater short-term impact on dealing with an issue that is literally overwhelming north Fulton?" Bodker said.
A Neglected Highway
Bodker said he's “looking at the short term” to deal with what his city needs.
“We’re really a different community unlike all of the cities of north Fulton, we’re nestled in between I-85 and Georgia 400,” Bodker said. “What has become our main artery is Highway 141, which turns into Peachtree Industrial and unfortunately it doesn’t get much [money].”
That's why the Johns Creek City Council passed a resolution stating it was fully opposed to any referendum vote or legislation that would provide for increase in taxes for MARTA.
A Losing Strategy
Lee Biola, president of Citizens for Progressive Transit, said spending more money on roads is a losing strategy.
“It’s an unfortunate pattern in a lot of Atlanta’s suburbs of rejecting increased transit service, and it’s something that’s going to hurt Johns Creek more than anyone else,” Biola said. “A lot of people in Johns Creek will be left out of the transit-oriented economy that’s growing along the MARTA line that’s connected to the world’s busiest airport and a thriving marketplace up and down the north line.”
Biola said the metro Atlanta region has 40,000 lane miles of highways and roads and only 48 miles of rail. He said Johns Creek would benefit from having closer access to a MARTA train station, which would happen with a new $8 billion proposal to expand MARTA.
“We’ve been investing overwhelmingly in roads over the past 100 years and very little in transit, and that’s why people are stuck in traffic,” Biola said. “No matter how much money you spend on roads, traffic will not get better. But if you have rail service, you can get out of traffic."
A Different Community
But Mayor Bodker said he knows his neighbors well, and they don't want MARTA in their city.
“I believe that transit has to play a very important role in the overall long-term plan for metro Atlanta, but the question is one of timing,” Bodker said. “You’re going to have a hard time getting Johns Creek to be a part of the conversation while we are inundated in traffic.”
He and other Fulton County mayors have been meeting since the summer to discuss House Bill 170. An amendment to the bill could give the county up to $1.2 billion over five years.
House Bill 170
The problem is, all of Fulton County has to be on the same page. They have to agree on how to divide the money among cities and how much would go to public projects like the Streetcar, BeltLine and MARTA and how much would go to road projects.
“If there’s unanimous, complete support by each municipality to have projects in their jurisdiction funded, the full penny is set aside,” Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves said. “If one of the jurisdictions opts out, it can go down to 75 percent of a penny to be proportioned out to the cities within the county.”
But Eaves said he's optimistic.
"This is a great opportunity for Fulton County as a single jurisdiction to address the No. 1 complaint of many people in our region: traffic," he said.
The deadline to submit an amendment to the legislation is January.