LIGHT RAIL: Atlanta’s MARTA scores expansion plan victory in state legislature

A $2.5 billion expansion is in the offing, which will include a light rail system

March 28, 2016

Georgia’s recently concluded legislative session saw an unlikely victory for proponents of mass transit development. A plan to let the city of Atlanta pursue a $2.5 billion expansion of MARTA, which was championed by some of the same lawmakers who tried to defeat a similar proposal just weeks ago, was allowed to progress forward.

The MARTA expansion, which is likely to include a long hoped for light rail system along the Beltline, would be funded with a 0.5% sales tax increase that Atlanta voters first have to approve.

Senate Bill 369 represents a compromise with GOP lawmakers who opposed an earlier plan put forth by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) that included Fulton and DeKalb counties. The compromise measure crafted by Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton) exempts DeKalb, but allows Fulton to pursue a 0.25% sales tax for transit sometime in the future. For now, local leaders in Fulton are free to focus on their stated priority—passing a five-year, 0.75% sales tax referendum this November to pay for badly needed road improvements.

“This is a win for Fulton County, a win for Atlanta and a win for MARTA—a true win-win,” said Beach.

A series of steps have to occur before the sales tax increase in Atlanta could take effect. The City Council will have to approve a proposed project list and schedule a referendum for November 2016 or 2017. Then, a majority of voters will have to endorse the plan. Atlantans already pay a 1% MARTA sales tax. The increase would bump the sales tax rate in the city to 8.5% from its 8%. Projected revenue from the tax, which would last through 2057, would be about $2.5 billion.