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Clayton County Update March 2011 Edition

Yesterday at the Capitol legislators representing Clayton County met with MARTA and ARC staff, Clayton Commission Chair Eldrin Bell, and community leaders to discuss the options for bringing transit back to Clayton County.

Four different sources of potential funding for transit in the county were discussed:

1- The Clayton County Commission can enact a special tax district to levy a 1 cent sales tax at the airport to use for transit terminating at the airport.  This option doesn’t require voter approval but would only raise an estimated $2.5 million a year. This isn’t enough to restore the prior service but, along with fares, could restore part of the service.

2- The Clayton County Commission could put a binding referendum on the November 2012 ballot to levy a 1 cent sales tax and join MARTA. This option requires the legislature to extend the current lifting of the sales tax ceiling for Clayton County.

3- Clayton County can submit transit service to the Regional Roundtable to include on the project list for the 2012 regional referendum. This option requires the full Roundtable putting the Clayton projects on the final list to be voted on by the region in July 2012.

4- The Clayton County Commission can set aside part or all of the 15% of the regional sale tax money that will be returned to the county if the regional referendum passes to use for transit.

These actions require a majority of the Clayton County Commission (or in the case of option 3 the Regional Roundtable) to move forward. All of the members of the County Commission were invited to the meeting and only the chair Eldrin Bell was in attendance.  None of these options preclude any other – a combination of options could raise enough funds to restart the service.

MARTA Proposes to Restore Braves Shuttle

MARTA released proposed service changes including the restoration of the Braves shuttle for the 2011 baseball season. The other changes are modifications to bus routes in response to public input after the large service cuts last September. These changes are to bus routes 2, 87, 99, and 181. More information available here.

The Public Hearings will take place on March 21st and 24th. All of the hearings begin with a community exchange at 6:30pm and the hearing starts at 7pm.

Monday, March 21st
Roswell City Hall- 38 Hill St, Roswell, GA 30075
South Fulton Service Center – 5600 Stonewell Tell Rd, College Park 30349

Thursday, March 24th
City of Atlanta Council Chambers – 55 Trinity Ave, Atlanta, GA 30303
Decatur Maloof Auditorium – 1300 Commerce Dr, Decatur GA 30030
Adamsville Recreation Center – 3201 Martin Luther King Dr, SW, Atlanta, GA 30331


All You Need to Know About the Regional Roundtable

Today the Atlanta Regional Roundtable met to finalize the timeline and protocol for creating the Project List for the transportation referendum to be held on August 21, 2012. The Roundtable will be developing the list of transportation projects to be funded with the one cent sales tax over the next 8 months.

A website for the process is now online.

In addition, here is a handout that lists the members of the Roundtable and the schedule of meetings (all meeting dates subject to change).

A few thoughts on how to get involved:

-Sign up on the Regional Roundtable website to receive emails.

- Contact members of your city and county governments to make sure the projects you think are important are submitted by March 31st, 2011.

- Attend Roundtable meetings and speak at the public comment period at the beginning of each meeting.

-Contact your representatives on the Roundtable and the Executive Committee members to inform them of the projects you think are important.

- Organize your community to attend the public hearings in August and September.

-Contact your city and county representatives to express how you think they should spend the 15% of funds that go directly to local jurisdictions.

News on the National Front

High Speed Rail
The Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, announced today that he is returning $2.4 billion in federal funds to build a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. He is the third newly elected Republican Governor to turn down federal funds for high speed rail following Ohio and Wisconsin.

The US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood expressed disappointment, but said, “Nevertheless, there is overwhelming demand for high speed rail in other states that are enthusiastic to receive Florida’s funding and the economic benefits it can deliver, such as manufacturing and construction jobs, as well as private development along its corridors.”

While other states are happy to take the funds originally allocated for Florida, this development poses a challenge for Obama’s high speed rail program. It will be hard to create a high speed rail network that connects major destinations across the country if states continue to refuse to participate.  Imagine what the interstate highway network would look like if states had opted out of that major investment.

Transportation Re-authorization and the Gas Tax
Congress is still working on the main federal transportation legislation, which was due to be revised over a year ago. One of the main sticking points has been the declining revenues from the federal gas tax and how to continue to pay for transportation infrastructure. In a Senate hearing today two unlikely leaders joined forces to support raising the gas tax. The president of the Chamber of Commerce and the head of the AFL-CIO testified in support of increased transportation infrastructure spending. Even more improbable was the positive reception the idea of raising taxes received from some Senators.

Federal Transportation Budget

The Obama Administration released its proposed federal budget today. As noted in the State of the Union address, Obama views transportation infrastructure spending as an important investment for the future of the US. The highlights of the transportation budget can be seen here.

While the budget highlights new spending for high speed passenger rail, it also takes a “fix-it-first” approach to highway and transit grants. This approach focuses on the conditions of existing infrastructure. As Atlanta prioritizes projects for the regional referendum it would be wise to take a similar approach. Not only are we not operating our existing transit system at its highest capacity, MARTA has significant maintenance needs.

As promised the Obama budget contains no earmarks and seeks to cancel long dormant earmarks. This could include the funds for the Lovejoy commuter rail line.


A Few Notes From Last Week

Last week the Georgia Transit Association (GTA), which represents transit operators from around the state of Georgia and companies that supply them, held its annual legislative breakfast. They released their 2011 legislative agenda and honored Representative Roberta Abdul-Salaam (Clayton and Fayette) for her work on transit in Clayton and passing the motor vehicle tax exemption for transit agencies.

Also last week, the Livable Communities Coalition held a stakeholder meeting for their Transit Campaign. Panels discussed the challenges of prioritizing transit projects, especially given the limitations of HB 277, and the politics of passing the referendum. It was agreed that more needs to be done to create a priority list of transit projects to be included in the project list for the regional referendum.

Coming up this week:
Regional Transit Committee of the Atlanta Regional Commission meeting
Thursday, February 10th at 1:30pm

Regional Transit Governance Legislation

This afternoon the Regional Transit Committee (RTC) of the  Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) (the successor of the Transit Planning Board and Transit Implementation Board) gave their seal of approval to draft legislation that would create a Metropolitan Transit Authority for Atlanta. Members of the Committee lauded themselves for reaching this point as a region.

Of course this legislation has to pass the Georgia Legislature and be signed by the Governor in order to take effect. The RTC members are correct that the effort for regional transit has been six years in the making. The push to introduce legislation this year is in part due to the upcoming regional sales tax referendum. Advocates of the referendum hope that having a regional transit agency to receive the transit funds will give the voters confidence to pass the measure.

The draft legislation sets up a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) for the Atlanta region and the ability for other parts of the state to set-up their own Regional Transit Authorities (RTA).  The MTA in Atlanta would take on transit planning, receive any new transit funds – including any funds from the regional referendum, and operate new regional service. The existing operators (MARTA, Cobb, Gwinnett, GRTA, and Cherokee) would remain in place, unless they chose to turn over their service to the MTA. MARTA would keep its sales tax funding.

The MTA would be controlled by a board made up of two representatives of each county (one commissioner and one mayor), the Mayor of Atlanta, and one appointee each from the Governor, Speaker of the House, and Lt. Governor. The board would set up its own by-laws based on the existing RTC adopted policy of weighted voting by population and funding.  The MTA would include the 10 county ARC area with the option of the first ring of surrounding counties to join at a later date.

In addition, the bill ends some of the restrictions on MARTA, including allowing it to operate rail outside of Fulton and DeKalb.

The RTC is sending the legislation to the Regional Transit Governance Commission set-up by the legislature last year. At this point it doesn’t have a sponsor and has not been formally introduced as a bill.

Update on Regional Roundtable and Transit Committee

Despite the icy roads and lack of fully restored bus service, the region’s local elected leaders and transportation officials met on Thursday to discuss transportation policy issues.  At the monthly Transportation and Air Quality Committee of the Atlanta Regional Commission local elected officials received updates on the Regional Transportation Planning process (Plan 2040).

This meeting was followed by a hastily arranged meeting of the Atlanta Regional Roundtable.  Apparently after the last Roundtable meeting members of the  business community and the Georgia legislature were upset at the political maneuvering. They feared that the lack of representation from Atlanta or Fulton county on the executive committee would threaten the ability of the sales tax referendum to pass the majority of voters. So over the holidays Georgia House Speaker David Ralston called the executive committee and Mayor Kasim Reed to his office  to broker a compromise deal. The compromise consisted of a three part deal in which Mayor Bucky Johnson of Norcross would resign from the executive committee to be replaced by Mayor Kasim Reed and in exchange Mayor Johnson would be made a non-voting chair of the Roundtable and the executive committee.

This compromise was presented to the full Regional Roundtable membership for approval. At first members of the full Roundtable balked at the lack of transparency in the deal making. In addition, DeKalb CEO Ellis,  and the Commission Chairs of Clayton, Fulton, and Rockdale stated they didn’t feel that adding Mayor Reed went far enough to fixing the lack of balance/diversity on the executive committee. After some discussion the resolution was adopted by a majority vote.

This meeting was followed by a meeting of the Regional Transit Committee of the Atlanta Regional Commission. The committee is working on drafting legislation to create a Metropolitan Transit Authority for the Atlanta region. The bill is being drafted at the direction of Mayor Reed in part to create an entity to receive any transit funding from the regional sales tax.  The bill is still being revised so has not been released to the public. The committee plans to vote on a final version on January 26th and find a legislative sponsor for the bill in the Georgia House and Senate. The committee is hoping the bill will pass this legislative session.

Highlights of the Proposed Bill
- The bill would set up a structure for a regional transit authority in Metro Atlanta and a structure for other parts of the state to create their own.

- The  Atlanta MTA would include the 10 ARC counties and the option for the first ring of surrounding counties to join at a later date.

- The new entity would be able to operate new service, but would not take over any existing service unless at the request of the existing provider. It would have competitive bidding between public and private to operate new service.

-The new entity would control any new sources of funds, including regional sales tax funds, but have no control over the existing MARTA tax funds.

- The legislation would permanently end the 50/50 restriction on MARTA’s budget and allow MARTA to receive new regional sales tax funds for its existing operations. It would also allow MARTA to operate rail outside Fulton and DeKalb.

- The MTA Board would include a county commissioner and mayor from each county, the mayor of Atlanta, and 3 state representatives. A weighted voting system by population and/or funding  would be set up by the agency’s by-laws.

No Buses Today Due to Snow

MARTA has canceled bus service today due to the weather and poor road conditions. Cobb and Gwinnett County have also canceled service for today.

MARTA rail service is operating but with longer wait times. Check for more information.

Regional Transit Governance Commission Releases Preliminary Report

The Regional Transit Governance Study Commission releases its mandated preliminary report today.  The Study Commission was created by the state legislature last year as part of the Transportation Investment Act (HB 277). The goal of the commission is to draft legislation that will set-up a regional transit governing body for the Atlanta region.

The brief preliminary report contains six proposed principles for the regional transit body, including a minimum amount of privatized transit operations. It is unlikely the legislation will be passed this session as the final report is not due until August 2011.


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