Days after Atlanta lawmakers voted to back a $2.5 billion referendum to expand MARTA, Gov. Nathan Deal announced tens of millions of dollars in grants for transit systems.
After decades of paltry state support for transit projects, the developments are another sign of the shifting support among politicians for rail, bus and other mass transportation improvements.
The grants that Deal announced Wednesday are part of a $75 million bond package used as a bargaining chip to earn Democratic support for the passage of fees and taxes to raise $1 billion in new transportation spending.
It’s an unprecedented one-time allotment of cash for transit projects in Georgia, one of the few states that doesn’t provide regular funding for transit operations. (Xpress bus service by the Georgia Regional Transit Authority, which receives state subsidies, is a lone exception.)
Although the $75 million won’t cover the needs of transit systems across the state, advocates see it as proof that the Republican-led General Assembly recognizes a state role in funding mass transportation.
The State Road and Tollway Authority vetted proposals from at least 10 applicants jockeying for 22 different projects worth $120 million. That’s only a fraction of the transit systems in 122 counties in Georgia, but most didn’t apply because they couldn’t meet eligibility requirements.
Proposals for the grant money have come from transit systems in Albany, Athens, Columbus and Savannah, and from MARTA and suburban bus networks across metro Atlanta. MARTA’s request is the heftiest – a $30 million proposal to replace its public address system and add more electronic signs.
Here are the grant recipients:
Albany Transit System
Constructs a new state-of-the-art transfer facility that improves the customer experience and allows for future expansion of the system. The facility will allow for safer separation of bus and pedestrian traffic, improve coordination with the regional rural public transportation system, and provide innovative features such as a computer lab with free public Wi-Fi and on-site fare purchases.
Replaces one-third (10 buses) of the Athens-Clarke diesel powered bus fleet with new hybrid-electric buses. The new buses will reduce long-term maintenance costs and decrease emissions.
Atlanta Regional Commission
Bus Stop Amenities
Upgrades bus stop signage throughout Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties. The new signs will have a consistent design for all transit systems and improved information for customers. Bus shelters, benches and sidewalk upgrades will also be provided at select stop locations to enhance riders’ experience and improve access for the elderly and disabled.
Chatham Area Transit Authority (CAT)
Replaces one-third (26 buses) of the CAT bus fleet. Newer buses will reduce maintenance costs and enhance the customer experience by improving reliability and on-time performance.
Bus Expansion – Route 10X
Purchases 12 buses needed to operate a new Cobb Community Transit Route 10X, which will provide express service from Town Center to the Midtown MARTA station with limited stops at major locations such as Kennesaw State University. This route will improve transit options along the I-75 corridor by reducing transfers among existing routes and decreasing travel times.
Bus Expansion – Cumberland Circulator
Purchases six buses to create two new circulator routes within the Cumberland Community Improvement District. The circulators will improve transit access to jobs and key community resources such as Sun Trust Park, Cumberland Mall and the Cobb Galleria.
Purchases 20 new buses for Gwinnett County Transit, which will enable the service to run more efficiently, improving reliability and cost-effectiveness.
Sugarloaf Mills Park & Ride Upgrade
Redesigns and upgrades the Sugarloaf Mills Park-and-Ride lot to improve bus access and passenger amenities. Customers will have additional shelters and the ability to purchase fares on-site. Buses will be able to take a more direct route to the I-85 Express Lanes, decreasing travel times and improving reliability.
Jonesboro Road Park & Ride
Constructs a new park-and-ride lot near the intersection of Jonesboro Road and I-75 in Henry County. The lot will provide access to the new I-75 South Metro Express Lane for vanpools and Xpress buses, improving connectivity and reliability.
Audio Visual Information System
Upgrades public address and electronic passenger information system at MARTA’s 38 rail stations with enhanced audio and video displays, expanding transit user access to communications and emergency information. Enhanced features include multi-lingual signage, automated messaging that more quickly provides communications to riders, and the display of bus schedule and arrival time information for connecting transit systems such as transfers from rail to bus or to other regional transit operators.
University of Georgia
Replaces one-third of the existing diesel bus fleet (19 buses) with new fully-electric buses, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing a quieter ride for transit users. The buses will also reduce maintenance costs, improving the cost-effectiveness of the system.