The Transportation Funding Act, House Bill 170, was at the forefront of the discussion at the Georgia Transportation Summit last week. The mood among many transportation officials was celebratory, praising the state legislature for their leadership in passing the bill to add nearly $1 billion in new transportation funding. The event brought together over 700 attendees to hear what transportation initiatives are in the works for the state and Metro Atlanta. Presentations by GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry and GDOT Chief Engineer Meg highlighted how significant the new legislation will be to the state’s transportation network.
But will House Bill 170 be the magic bullet for transportation in Georgia? While it is certainly a huge step forward in improving our transportation network, some panelists suggested that we cannot rest on our laurels. There is still work to do, particularly in the realm of transit. David Allman, Chairman of Regent Partners, said the critical next step to follow up on the success of House Bill 170 will be MARTA expansion. Panelist Craig Lesser of the Pendleton Group spoke from an economic development perspective, saying access to MARTA is critical for business in Metro Atlanta. The next panel, featuring MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe, discussed expanding freight and commuter mobility. Ashe highlighted the fact that companies such as State Farm, Mercedes Benz, and Kaiser Permanente have chosen to locate near MARTA and described expansion plans, including the Connect 400, I-20 East, and Clifton Corridor projects.
Among the breakout sessions was a presentation by Keith Parker, General Manager and CEO of MARTA, about MARTA’s success in focusing on an improved customer experience. Now that MARTA has gone through rebuilding efforts and has turned a budget shortfall into a surplus, he discussed plans for expansion potentially funded by an additional half penny sales tax so that the Atlanta region can attract federal matching funds for transit expansion.