Clayton Referendum Reviving Interest In Commuter Rail From Atlanta To Macon

Aug 3, 2014

Recent developments in Clayton County are rekindling interest in commuter rail from Atlanta to Macon. That's despite Georgia losing access last month to $45 million in federal funds for the project.  

The Federal Transit Administration sent word to the Georgia Department of Transportation July 1st.

“They’re saying based on failure to make progress on these grants, specifically construction, they’re de-obligating federal funding,” said GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale.

The FTA ultimately made the decision because the state over the course of a decade was unable to produce local match funds.

Congressman David Scott originally helped secure the $45 million. Naturally, he’s disappointed. But he says there may be new momentum. He cited Clayton’s recent move to include a ballot measure in November that could pave the way for expanded MARTA rail service to Lovejoy.

“We’ve got to undue the damage that has been done and this could be the catalyst that could restart the Macon to Atlanta line,” said Scott.  

Clayton voters will be asked to raise the local sales tax by one percent, generating roughly $45 million per year. Approximately half of that could go towards a line to Lovejoy, long seen as the first step towards Macon.

Rail advocates are hopeful, but acknowledge the challenge ahead. They note the extension from Lovejoy to Macon would involve re-applying for federal funds.

“The feds don’t trust that Georgia understands or is committed to passenger rail,” said Steve Vogel, head of the Georgia Association of Railroad Passengers. But he believes Clayton stepping up to provide local funds would send the right message.

“It’s the old 'if you build it, they will come,' and that’s been true for commuter systems across the country," said Vogel. "Once you have something running - you have people getting on trains - then you’ll get a little more attention.”

Congressman Scott agreed.

“Whenever the federal government sees local governments willing to initiate and pay their share and make a local investment then federal funding is looked upon much more favorably,” said Scott.

Dale said discussing new funds for the Macon line is premature – Clayton’s ballot measure is still months away. But she anticipates the topic coming up more in the future. GDOT is currently updating the state’s long-term rail plan and public input sessions are being held later this month.