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MARTA Expansion…

By all indications, the fix is in- Gwinnett County taxpayers will be funding a $1 billion boondoggle known as MARTA expansion. In March, 2019, voters defeated a transit referendum that included plans to extend MARTA about 4 miles to Jimmy Carter Blvd, at a cost of $250 million per mile. Although the referendum included plans to add a variety of bus-based forms of public transit, voters found a cost of one billion dollars to extend a heavy rail line to be unpalatable.

Dave Emanuel | Cut To The Chase

Yet, when the Gwinnett Transit Review Committee released its recommendation in December, it was little more than a fluff and buff of the referendum that failed previously. Which brings into question the real purpose of expanding MARTA into Gwinnett County. Is it to reduce congestion by providing viable alternatives to traveling by private vehicle, or to simply inject more money into an economically failing operation? All indications are the latter.

Aside from the one billion-dollar (plus) expense, the issue with expanding MARTA is that the system is fatally flawed. Heavy rail systems in other cities are frequently cited as examples of the benefit that an expanded rail system would provide for metro Atlanta in general, and Gwinnett County specifically. Yet with a system that has a total of a mere 38 stations, MARTA will never provide the convenient rail transportation found in other cities. In comparison, the New York City subway system has 426 stations and more destination stations in the Manhattan’s business district than the entire MARTA system. (Heavy rail is defined as a system that is separated from street traffic.)

Consequently, final mile transportation is always a challenge in Atlanta. As an example, if you’d like to take MARTA to the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coke or the Fox theater, be sure to bring your walking shoes with you. It’s a 10-to-15-minute hike from the closest MARTA station to each of those destinations. And a host of other popular destinations are just as far from the nearest MARTA station- or further. Heavy rail is simply the most expensive means of not providing convenient transportation.

Consequently, extending MARTA into Gwinnett County does little more than add another station to a system that largely fails at taking passengers to their desired destinations. There are better options. 

Another negative to MARTA expansion is that it does nothing to alleviate traffic within Gwinnett County. It simply provides a new option for residents in and around Norcross. MARTA rail expansion will do nothing to reduce traffic between Gwinnett cities or between those cities and north Fulton County.

Cost is another negative factor. No rail transportation system in the country operates at or above a break-even point- especially MARTA. For the 2018 fiscal year, revenues decreased $11 million while operating expenses increased $47.1 million compared to the previous year. That resulted in total fare revenues of $138.2 million, and total operating expenses of $715.68 million.  Additionally, MARTA incurred $104 million in non-operating expenses. The $681.48 million fare-to-operating expense shortfall of was made up by sales and use taxes and federal revenues.

Expanding MARTA into Gwinnett will only add to the revenue shortfall, and ultimately increase taxes.