UPDATE: 4:15 p.m., January 27: See below for a statement issued by MARTA officials today.
Unsettling rumors swirling lately around local media, social media, and the minds of Atlanta alternative transportation enthusiasts have proven true: MARTA isn’t going to be able to deliver the ambitious list of expansion projects voters approved more than six years ago. Not even close.
That’s according to the transit agency’s recently installed CEO Collie Greenwood, who laid out MARTA’s disconcerting, apparently insurmountable budget shortfall before a none-too-pleased Atlanta City Council on Wednesday, as the AJC reports.
In a scene reminiscent of Atlanta’s “rebaselining” efforts of 2018—when voter-approved Renew Atlanta and TSPLOST infrastructure improvement programs were found to be woefully underfunded and in need of paring down—Greenwood told the council’s Transportation Committee the agency’s 17-project, $2.7-billion More MARTA expansion plans can’t proceed as originally envisioned.
Instead, MARTA’s chief believes a tentative shortlist of seven projects—none of them specified yet—now stands a realistic chance of being completed. The revised list is being negotiated with Mayor Andre Dickens’ office and is close to being finalized, according to Greenwood, the newspaper reported.
Greenwood blamed rising costs (see: Summerhill Bus Rapid Transit construction delays) and the complex nature of major transit projects for the lack of expansion progress since Atlanta voters approved a half-penny sales tax to fund a more robust MARTA system in 2016. The CEO did note that MARTA has made more accelerated progress since an expansion agreement was finally set in stone in 2020.
The meeting was called after the AJC reported this month MARTA’s expansion plans could face a funding gap of more than $1 billion—a number floated by the agency’s former deputy general manager Josh Rowan (previously the head of ATLDOT) after he was abruptly canned without cause by Greenwood on Jan. 5. Rowan, formerly the city’s transportation commissioner, had been hired in August to help improve MARTA’s existing system and oversee its expansion.
A consultant is still working on a financial model that’s shown the $1 billion shortfall could be a reality MARTA will have to face, and Greenwood said the finalized model might not be ready by the time the council’s Transportation Committee meets again in March, the newspaper reported.
Greenwood did vow to bring the revised More MARTA project list to that meeting. But that promise hardly placated councilmembers, who said constituents are fed up with MARTA’s inability to complete a single project with funding overwhelmingly approved by voters when President Barrack Obama was still in office.
Chair of the Transportation Committee, Councilmember Amir Farokhi, spoke of “waning trust” that “something’s going to get done in a timely manner” regarding MARTA’s growth, per the AJC.
Projects that appear likely to make the pared-down list of seven, per the newspaper, include renovations at Five Points and Bankhead stations, BRT lines through Summerhill and Campbellton Road, and bus system improvements (aka, Arterial Rapid Transit) down Cleveland Avenue and Metropolitan Parkway.
So maybe the program's very name also needs revised? "A Little More MARTA" sounds fitting.
UPDATE, via MARTA officials:
"There has been inaccurate reporting regarding the More MARTA Atlanta Program after a meeting on Wednesday between MARTA executives and the City of Atlanta Transportation Committee.
MARTA leadership notified the Committee that it had contracted [consultants] HDR Inc. in 2022 to develop a dynamic financial model to account for changes in project costs, delivery dates, state and federal funding opportunities, and MARTA looked forward to providing updates to the committee as soon as possible.
MARTA leadership clarified that it is working with the City of Atlanta and Atlanta BeltLine Inc (ABI) to close remaining budget gaps that were identified at the start of the program. In 2016, the More MARTA Atlanta Program originally consisted of 70 projects estimated to cost approximately $12 billion. After two years of extensive meetings with the City of Atlanta, ATL, stakeholders, and public input and analysis, the MARTA Board adopted 17 projects at a cost of $2.7 billion which was further memorialized in the IGA that was approved by the MARTA Board, City Council, and executed by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in November 2019.
In the coming weeks, MARTA’s financial model will be completed and used to evaluate project sequence, schedule, scope, and funding sources in order to take advantage of state and federal funding opportunities while delivering transit projects for Atlanta residents as quickly as possible.
Below is the original approved project sequencing list and project delivery process.
The timing, scope, and funding sources of these 17 projects may be adjusted, based on the changing conditions and input from the Program Governance Committee and stakeholders. At Wednesday’s meeting, MARTA leadership committed to update the committee on the process in March and communicating those decisions to the public.
MARTA has not made a decision to drop any of the 17 projects approved by the MARTA Board in 2019.
In the coming weeks, we expect to announce, in partnership with the City of Atlanta, a reprioritized list of projects that are tiered and based on current inflationary realities and other factors. The first tier would be the list of projects MARTA will focus on delivering within an acceptable timeframe. The remaining projects in other tiers will continue to advance as MARTA’s financial model is refined further and funding gaps are closed."
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