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Greg Bluestein

Casey Cagle on MARTA’s path to state funding

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A MARTA train heads north from Buckhead to Dunwoody. A half-penny sales tax hike could push the line north to Alpharetta.

A MARTA train heads north from Buckhead to Dunwoody.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is willing to trade state funding for MARTA for a major overhaul of the board that governs the transit agency.

The Republican told WABE’s Denis O’Hayer that he and other Republicans acknowledge that the MARTA, one of the largest transit systems to receive no significant dedicated state funding, needs more support from Georgia lawmakers to succeed. But he said that money will have strings attached.

“There is no funding unless a change in governance occurs,” Cagle said. “We will be looking at ways in which a broader regional context can be brought to bear. Having more independence and more business leaders at the table that are experts are really what we should be looking at.”

State lawmakers are studying such a shakeup during their off-season, and among the ideas they’re exploring is a regional transit system that could oversee or take the place of MARTA and other metro Atlanta transportation networks.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in his state Capitol office. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in his state Capitol office. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

“The state should be a partner in MARTA. I will fully admit to that. And that means bringing resources to the table. But we can’t put resources to the table unless we see a return on that investment,” he told O’Hayer. “And the return on that investment means increased ridership and the ability to be able to pay their own way and know what our contribution is going to be.”

MARTA won a significant victory this legislative session in reviving a stalled bill that will fuel its first major expansion in years. The new law allows the city of Atlanta to pursue a $2.5 billion expansion that will likely include light rail along the Beltline by levying a half-percent sales tax. Fulton has the option to pursue a 0.25 percent sales tax for transit in the future, while DeKalb was exempted from the bill.

Cagle told O’Hayer it set the stage for a more regional approach to transit.

“Everyone wants to see MARTA succeed. And if you want to see MARTA succeed, you have to buy in to a larger strategy,” he said, adding: “This is not about a takeover. It’s about creating a service that more people will be willing to consume.”