MARTA's Uphill Expansion Battle Result of Racism?
The defeat of the T-SPLOST in 2012 and the more than 40-year resistance by suburban counties to MARTA's expansion has everything to do with racism. That's the shocking claim from North American Properties' Mark Toro during our Atlanta Millennial Revolution event yesterday.
“It's racism. We’ve got to recognize it and call it what it is,” Mark says before our audience of more than 250 CRE pros during our event yesterday at Buckhead Theatre. Mark is spearheading the effort as chair of ULI Atlanta's Livable Communities Council to lobby suburban cities in North Fulton, which have long resisted talk of heavy rail expansion to their communities, for support of a ballot initiative that will allow voters in Fulton and DeKalb counties to pass a half-penny sales tax to fund a handful of significant rail expansions in those counties.
Mark and other CRE leaders made big pushes with voters in 2012 for the T-SPLOST, often using the refrain of “there is no Plan B” after the plan that would have raised $8B for a variety of road and MARTA projects. The vote failed with voters overwhelmingly. But Mark notes that voters within I-285 were highly supportive, while voters in the 'burbs were “ice cold.” “MARTA is deeply polarizing in the suburban communities as it has been for 40 years-plus,” he says. “The train runs both ways, and we don't want those people out here. That is the prevailing theme in suburban communities.”
The new half-penny sales tax, if approved for referendum and further approved by voters in DeKalb and Fulton, would raise billions through 2057 to help fund three major expansion programs, including MARTA heavy rail 12 miles further into Alpharetta along GA 400, another heavy rail extension east-west along I-20 into the Stonecrest Mall area, and a light rail system that would connect 8.8 miles from Lindbergh Center to Avondale Estates.
Aside from Mark (who moderated), our panel included Engel & Volkes Intown Atlanta's Randy Gibbs, UberEATS' Peter Hsu, MARTA's Amanda Rhein, Google Fiber's Jonathan Love, Cooper Carry's Alicia Buck and The Ardent Cos Neville Allison. During discussion, there was some open criticism of the Atlanta Braves decision to move to an area with no direct MARTA connection. “For every TOD you can cite, you can cite three more that aren't getting in that trend,” Neville says, adding that the largest mixed-use project underway in Atlanta—SunTrust Park—has no connectivity to MARTA.
When asked how the project will fare due to that, Amanda replied: “I expect they will learn their lesson the hard way.” We spoke with Amanda after the panel, who tells us MARTA is in talks with the Braves and SunTrust Park developers to have some form of MARTA help to shuttle spectators to the games, but declined to comment what those initiatives would involve. And “unless it's bus,” any MARTA presence there won't be done in time for Opening Day in 2017, she says.
But maybe discussions of traffic and mass transit are a moot point. At least in Jonathan's prediction, where he feels the impact of self-driving vehicles could erase these issues in a generation by adding roadway capacity due to efficiencies. While the Braves are “making hideous decisions” on the location of the new stadium, Jonathan says things like Google Car “will dramatically impact” transportation in Atlanta in the next 15 years. While a lack of transit is a significant metro issue, “I think [the issue] has an expiration date.”