Has MARTA Conversation Shifted for North Fulton?

By Geoff Smith

While we in North Fulton have been dickering for years about MARTA expansion, I noticed a change: the conversation seems to have shifted from “yes” or “no”, to “what kind.”

Fulton County Commissioners and the county’s mayors got together yesterday to see the results of a 6-month transit analysis and public engagement study. According to an article in today’s Atlanta Business Chronicle, the consultants hired by the county presented five different options ranging from an “aspirational” plan that includes the rail lin expanded up GA400, to one limited to bus-rapid transit.

North Fulton residents and leaders are mixed in opinion with some wanting the rail line expanded to Windward Parkway, while others don’t want it expanded past Holcomb Bridge Road. Conversation hit a fever pitch last year as leaders first pitched an increased sales tax that would go directly toward MARTA expansion. What was finally approved by voters was a 3/4 of a penny increase in our sales tax with the funds being divvied up among the cities to be used only on transportation, not transit, improvements. This was a huge shot in the arm for our North Fulton cities and a number of projects are underway now because of the influx of revenue.

But the argument for expansion of MARTA remains strong in North Fulton. Fulton Commissioner Liz Hausmann summed up the reasons for expansion pretty well in the article in the Chronicle.

“It’s imperative our region consider transit as a necessary component for congestion relief,” she said. “A well-managed transportation system will foster economic prosperity and continue to keep our state as a national leader in which to do business.”

It’s almost impossible to determine how many more people would actually ride the train if it was expanded to Holcomb Bridge Road, especially considering that if we started construction on it tomorrow it wouldn’t be finished for another 5 years or more.

But there is a lot of talk about our lack of affordable, or critical workforce, housing in North Fulton. Land has become so expensive here that without significantly increasing the density, which is measured in things like units per acre, or number of stories a building can go up, developers cannot build homes or condos under $400,000 and make a profit. So our firefighters, policemen and women, and restaurant and retail workers all have to fight through traffic to get here. If you have a friend who owns a restaurant, ask him or her how often they have to rehire. My friends tell me its often. If we cannot figure out how to get more ‘affordable’ housing here in North Fulton, an efficient transit system could help alleviate that problem.

If ridership doesn’t move you on this issue, perhaps this will. Even if you have only casually been following all of the corporate relocations to Atlanta over the last several years, you understand this: today’s corporations want to be near mass transit. Mercedes-Benz put their North American headquarters off Abernathy in Sandy Springs. In their press release, they said being near MARTA was critical. State Farm is building a massive campus across the street from the Dunwoody station. They included a walking bridge over Hammond Drive connecting the campus to the station. You can bet that if Amazon puts HQ2 in Atlanta, it will be next to a MARTA station. If we want to attract new relocations to North Fulton, it’s going to be harder to do without a good mass transit system in place.

But here is something else to think about: NCR just moved their headquarters from Duluth to downtown Atlanta. They wanted to be in a walkable environment with plenty of mass transit options. So not having a mass transit system in place is not only hurting our ability to recruit new business, it’s giving existing businesses a reason to move out. I will now think about that every time I drive through downtown and see NCR’s new 22-story building reaching up and over the highway.

Setting aside the fact that these corporations help our local economy by supporting our retail, restaurant and network of other small businesses throughout the day, having less of them will only exacerbate our traffic issues. Once finished, you know how NCR’s employees that live in North Fulton will get to work? GA400 south.