Sunday, July 6, 2014

Historic Transit Expansion Opportunity

ATLANTA, GA (Sierra Club) - An unprecedented coalition of public transportation advocates, with the Georgia Sierra Club’s Regional Action to Improve Livability (RAIL) Campaign playing a leading role, scored a historic victory on Saturday, as Clayton County officials finally agreed to let residents vote on whether to join Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) as a full member this year. The vote sets up our first serious chance to expand the state’s largest transit provider since it was initially established as a two-county system serving Fulton and DeKalb in 1971.

Saturday morning, for the third time in as many weeks, transit advocates packed the Clayton County Commission chambers in Jonesboro, watching as a majority of commissioners voted, just one day ahead of a legislatively-imposed deadline, to accept a proposed contract with MARTA that would begin building a world-class bus and rail transit system in Clayton as soon as next year.  The issue now goes before Clayton voters on the November 4th ballot, four years after citizens overwhelmingly approved a non-binding ballot question on MARTA expansion. Now, they have a chance to approve it for real.

Saturday’s victory was the result of tireless effort by Sierra Club staff and volunteers, working alongside an impressive array of community partners. Georgia Chapter organizer Brionte McCorkle has been a constant presence in Clayton County over the last year, helping build the on-the-ground infrastructure that made this victory possible. That work has been a part of the larger umbrella of the Friends of Clayton Transit, a coalition that also includes Former State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, Citizens for Progressive Transit, Southern Environmental Law Center, Georgia Stand-Up, the Partnership for Southern Equity, the Center for Transportation Excellence, and many committed grassroots advocates in Clayton County and beyond. Thanks are also in order to Rep. Mike Glanton, who carried the state legislation authorizing the MARTA vote, and the Chapter’s legislative team, led by Neill Herring and Mark Woodall, who have diligently monitored the issue for us at the Gold Dome.

The Clayton MARTA campaign has been a centerpiece of the Chapter’s transportation efforts for over a year now. Remember back in 2012 when the Chapter said “No” to the T-SPLOST and “Yes” to Plan B? Many asked us exactly what that Plan B was. In the years since, several key components of that platform have started falling into place. Just months after the 2012 referendum failed, MARTA hired Keith Parker, a reform-minded outsider, as its General Manager, and we have since seen dramatic improvements in the agency’s finances and operations. In the 2013 legislative session, the State of Georgia took the landmark step of providing ongoing annual funding for transit operations after decades of resistance.

And now, we are another seeing another pillar of our post-2012 transportation agenda -- using the existing legislative framework to continue building out our regional transit system in Atlanta -- come to fruition. MARTA was originally envisioned as a five-county system, and under the 1965 MARTA Act, Clayton, Cobb, and Gwinnett Counties are eligible to join Fulton and DeKalb as full participants in the system. Expansion to Clayton is now tantalizingly close, and even expansion to Gwinnett and Cobb is beginning to look more feasible. Meanwhile, we are seeing serious discussion of state support for transit for the first time in recent memory.

While we are excited by those prospects, our most immediate priority (after some much-needed rest!) is finishing the job in Clayton County. A strong showing of pro-transit voters in Clayton on November 4th will not only ensure a convincing victory for the MARTA referendum, but will also provide a boost to Chapter-endorsed statewide candidates like Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn, who would be important allies for the Sierra Club’s efforts on sustainable transportation and many other issues.


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