Transportation and Transit
The state of transportation in Georgia is reaching a tipping point. The desire for transit is high, driven by traffic’s increasing impact on quality of life and productivity. A recent Atlanta Regional Commission survey showed that 51 percent of regional respondents would be in favor of paying more in taxes to fund public transit. The landscape is shifting with ridesharing, Mobility as a Service (MaaS), and dreams of autonomous vehicles. The conversation is moving from congestion towards reliable mobility choices and the opportunities these present. This evolution has been fueled by the spate of recent corporate relocations driven by proximity to MARTA. The conversation about transit’s importance to Amazon in its choice of a city for its second HQ has turbocharged that dynamic. Transit is now at minimum a premium requirement for many corporate real estate teams. It is no surprise, for example, that all three WeWork co-working locations in Atlanta are located within a short walk of a MARTA station.
How is policymaking at the state and local level responding to such a dynamic environment?
The Council for Quality Growth over the last several years included transit expansion and funding, as well as transportation and infrastructure funding as top issues in our Legislative Priorities. The Council has successfully advocated for legislation that has added over $1 billion in transportation and infrastructure funding for Georgia, House Bill 170 in 2015, and advocated successfully for transit and infrastructure funding and expansion with Senate Bill 369 in 2016. Because of Senate Bill 369, Fulton County and its 14 cities, in conjunction with Council Members Kimley-Horn and HNTB, under the direction of the Atlanta Regional Commission, concluded a study was needed to determine the potential expansion of transit services in Fulton County.
Fulton County Master Transit Plan Study
After six months of extensive analysis, robust public engagement, and comprehensive study, a series of Fulton County transit expansion scenarios were presented for review and discussion at a meeting of Fulton County Mayors and Commissioners on December 14, 2017. The scenarios were based on analysis of population and employment densities, major activity center locations, future growth projections, mobility needs, and locations of populations likely to use transit and public input.
The options include a market-based plan, which represents a countywide vision for transit services, and four scenarios based on potential funding levels. The scenarios consider different mode types across North and South Fulton with implementation, maintenance, and operations costs estimated over a 40-year period.
- The market-based scenario recommends expanding heavy rail north along GA 400 to Holcomb Bridge Road, west along I-20 to Fulton Industrial Boulevard, and south from College Park through the City of Hapeville and into Clayton County. The vision also includes light rail along the top end of I-285, and bus rapid transit (BRT) and arterial rapid transit (ART) along several north and south Fulton corridors.
- A ¼-cent transit sales tax scenario offers bus rapid transit (BRT) on two North Fulton and two South Fulton corridors. While it is not sufficient to meet Fulton County’s needs nor the public’s desire for enhanced transit access, this scenario utilizes the remaining sales tax increment in Fulton County under current limits set by the State of Georgia.
- A ½-cent RAIL scenario includes the potential for rail along GA 400 to Holcomb Bridge Road and bus or arterial rapid transit along GA 400 from Holcomb Bridge Road to Old Milton Parkway, South Fulton Parkway, and Highway 29/Roosevelt Highway.
- A ½-cent BRT/ART scenario provides significant BRT and ART investments throughout south and north Fulton.
- A ½-cent PLUS scenario would combine BRT and ART investments with heavy rail along GA 400 to Holcomb Bridge Road.
These Fulton County transit scenarios will be presented to the public at a series of open houses across Fulton County in January:
- January 22, 6:30-8:30 PM, South Fulton Service Center, 5600 Stonewall Tell Road in College Park
- January 23, 6:00-8:00 PM, Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta, 5750 Windward Road in Alpharetta
- January 24, 6:30-8:30 PM, College Park City Hall, 3667 Main Street in College Park
To move forward with any of the scenarios, the Fulton County Mayors and Commissioners must work with state legislators to authorize a funding stream that extends beyond the current limit of five years. Additionally, to achieve scenarios in bullets 2-5 listed above, one solution is legislation to allow for a ½ cent for transit projects. The Council is expecting legislation to be brought forth this Session to allow for an extended funding stream and increase the amount of monies to be collected, which would be subject to a local voter referendum; or a combination of methods utilizing state and local resources to ensure projects on the ½ penny list are achieved.
House Transit Funding and Governance Commission
The House Transit Funding and Governance Commission is expected to release their initial report in the coming weeks, which will set the stage for potential governance and/or funding legislation to be introduced this Session. The Commission, chaired by House Transportation Chairman Kevin Tanner, included Rep. Christian Coomer, Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, Rep. Jason Shaw, Rep. Calvin Smyre, Rep. Tom Taylor, Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann, CEO & Exec. Director of the Chatham Area Transit Curtis Kolber, Director of the Athens Transit System Butch McDuffie, Chairman of the Gwinnett Co. Board of Commissioners Charlotte Nash, President/CEO of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce Brian Anderson, President of the Georgia Transit Association Rhonda Briggins, Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry, former MARTA CEO Keith Parker and SRTA executive Director Chris Tomlinson.
The Commission held five Commission Meetings around the State in 2017, hearing testimony from a number of entities, including the Atlanta Regional Commission on transit governance and transit funding, Lyft and Uber on the future of transit and mobility and rideshare in connection with mass transit; Ga. Department of Transportation and their role in public transit in Georgia; MARTA, with an overview of the agency and their funding structure, needs and potential state investment,; Regional Transportation District Denver and their regional transit funding and governance success story; and a number of other informative presentations. To view all presentations and committee meeting video, click HERE.
Gwinnett County Comprehensive Transit Development Plan – Connect Gwinnett
Based on the recently adopted Gwinnett County Comprehensive Transportation Plan, Destination2040, Gwinnett County initiated a Comprehensive Transit Development Plan to review all fixed route and paratransit services. Adopted in April 2017 was covered by the Council for Quality Growth HERE. The study, Connect Gwinnett, is taking a comprehensive review of the Gwinnett County Transit system for the first time since its inception in 2001. Led by Council members Kimley-Horn, Connect Gwinnett will culminate in short-, medium- and long-term plans constrained to identified current and future funding sources and vetted through a broad community outreach effort.
For the first round of public engagement activities, the planning team has conducted a 12-stop cross-county bus tour, administered an online and paper survey taken by more than 3,670 participants, hosted input stations at nearly 20 community events, and facilitated 7 targeted focus group meetings. In addition to general public input, the planning team relies on advisory committees to help guide the direction of the plan. In November 2017, the advisory committee was presented the planning team’s initial plan recommendations, which included proposals to meet the following plan objectives:
- Expand transit coverage within the County where warranted
- Expand regional transit connections for travel into/out of the County
- Provide faster transit travel times (i.e., more direct alignments)
- Establish a transit network that is supportive for future major transit service investments
- Advance Project Development efforts for Long-Range High Capacity Transit
- Provide transit options that are competitive with automobile travel times
- Promote economic growth throughout the County
- Increase transit access and connectivity to larger numbers of County residents and employees
- Better tie to the regional transportation network
- Implement a financially feasible, sustainable transit system
Some of the high-level system improvements being considered include creating a new multimodal hub, new high-capacity transit service focused in key corridors, expanded local and express bus services, and opportunities for on-demand and enhanced paratransit services.
In early 2018, the planning team will host public open houses to gather input on draft recommendations as well as another round of online and paper surveys, and also will conduct, a scientific phone survey. The public’s input will be incorporated into the final plan recommendations, which will be refined based on projected future financial constraints. The financially constrained plans will provide guidance to Gwinnett County leadership when considering opportunities for new transit funding sources. For more information and to sign-up for plan updates, visit the Connect Gwinnett webpage at http://www.ConnectGwinnettTransit.com.
As you can see, transit and transportation have become a focal point for our state and local elected officials. What will happen at the State Capitol this Session remains to be seen, but the Council is encouraged by the leadership of the Speaker, Lt. Governor, House Transportation Chairman Kevin Tanner and Senate Transportation Chairman Brandon Beach for their recognition of transit and transportations role in economic development and job creation. The Council will continue, as a part of our Legislative Agenda, to advocate for legislation that funds multi-year transportation and infrastructure needs and measures to expand and streamline the operation of metro Atlanta’s transit systems.