Atlanta has been synonymous with sprawl for decades, but the city’s notorious traffic reputation may finally be changing for the better. On November 8th, voters approved two referenda that will result in a transformative investment in the City of Atlanta’s transportation infrastructure and the most significant expansion of MARTA since the mass transit system was initially built in the 1970s.
For years, investment in MARTA has not kept pace with Atlanta’s growth, resulting in a city with few transportation options outside of cars and congested roads. As recently as 2013, Atlanta ranked at the bottom of U.S. cities in per-capita transit spending.
This year’s successful MARTA referendum signals a shift away from underfunding and comes two years after Clayton County became the first new county to join the transit system in decades.
All three of these transportation measures passed with more than two-thirds of voters support.
This strong support for a more diverse transportation system and more robust non-driving options contrasts starkly with a previous transportation proposal in 2012, which offered a mix of transit and road projects and was soundly rejected by voters.
In addition to strong backing from the voters, Atlanta business leaders are also increasingly embracing transit in the region. Companies like NCR, Worldpay, State Farm, athenahealth and PulteGroup have all cited proximity of office locations to transit as a key factor in attracting and retaining employees who want reduced commute times and options other than driving.
Noting economic development around existing MARTA stations, interest from the business community, and the strong support for transit in recent referenda, leaders in other counties—Fulton, DeKalb, and Gwinnett—must address the need for similar transit investments in their jurisdictions.
While securing long-term funding is a critical step forward, successfully planning and implementing the transit expansion will be important for the region to address its continued growth. Metro Atlanta’s population rose to more than 5.7 million residents in 2015, while the number of people living in Fulton County passed the 1 million mark, and projections by the Atlanta Regional Commission estimate the region will add another 2.5 million people by 2040.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented shift from building new roads as the top solution to overwhelming support for more transit,” said SELC Senior Attorney Brian Gist. “Other counties in Atlanta and other cities in the Southeast will be looking at this MARTA expansion as a model of how to expand transportation options. This referendum affords us the opportunity to lead by example by getting public input and efficiently delivering the most effective transit projects.”