What was billed as a roundtable discussion of Atlanta’s transportation priorities in 2023 often doubled as an apology tour by city leaders.
At a Tuesday evening meeting organized by Propel ATL, a half dozen Atlanta City Council members took turns explaining why a range of citywide transportation infrastructure projects have been slow to come to fruition or remain stuck in neutral—from the More MARTA expansion to road safety projects like fixing DeKalb Avenue, an ambitious $1 billion in total sidewalk upgrades and repairs, and more.
“Many of us have been frustrated over the years about things like DeKalb Avenue [improvements], and we also have a new slate of projects approved by all of us as voters in 2022,” Council President Doug Shipman told a group of roughly 100 Atlanta residents at Metropolitan Library.
“Now that we have a new transportation commissioner, we need to make sure we are actually executing projects and getting things off the ground,” he added.
Shipman and other council members, including Amir Farokhi, who chairs the city’s Transportation Committee, cited underfunded budgets, and a lack of staffing and transparency from partner agencies for the less-than-ideal state of affairs.
“The city is really great at planning—not so great at executing on those plans,” said councilmember Dustin Hillis, representing District 9.
The delays on existing transit plans make some council members hesitate on calls for any new ones. Attendees could submit advance questions, which the council members answered during the Q&A portion. One asked: “Would you support the development of a new citywide transit priority plan?”
Not if the city can’t fulfill the ones made two–or even 15 years ago, Farokhi responded, referring to a 2008 Connect Atlanta transit plan that called for a web of new rapid transit corridors and a Transportation Plaza in Buckhead, just south of Piedmont Hospital, to connect the Beltline and Peachtree Road.
“Nobody talks about that plan anymore. We’re on to another setup,” said Farokhi. “I think we all feel the motivation for that question … But the devil is in whether the plan we can agree on moving forward gets executed. I think we’re all kind of in this frustration with the paralysis we see with execution.”
On top of the council’s to-do list: Solving the MARTA mystery. At a city council meeting last month, MARTA’s new CEO Collie Greenwood acknowledged the transit agency is facing a deficit of over $1 billion, which has forced it to either cancel or scale back long-awaited More MARTA projects. For instance, the light rail extension for the Clifton Corridor project will instead be served by bus rapid transit (BRT) lines.
Atlanta voters approved a half-cent sales tax back in 2016 to pay for the More MARTA expansion, and in 2018 MARTA unveiled a $2.7 billion, 17-project plan that the tax increase would pay for–but Greenwood has pared that list down to seven which have a reasonable chance at completion.
“If you’ve been following [the news], it is troubling, to say the least,” said Shipman. “The lack of transparency, the lack of understanding of where we are with the More MARTA program, and frankly, just how much money is in that program—so it’s a very high priority for me to try to understand and get some answers on that.”
Another priority for the city is sharpening the focus on Vision Zero, a road safety strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries.
Pedestrian and vehicle crash deaths were up nationwide in 2022, but Georgia is a particular concern. According to statistics from the National Safety Council, Georgia’s car-related fatalities were up 15% in October from 2020, and the Peach State ranks 4th in the nation in traffic fatalities with 1,664.
“We’re moving in the wrong direction on that, which is a combination of a lack of execution on infrastructure changes, signage, lights, and all these things,” said Farokhi. “We’ve yet to really get ATL DOT to get philosophically aligned on Vision Zero … so we have a lot of work to do there.”
The outlook is a bit brighter for the $5.4 million initiative to fix DeKalb Avenue, a perilous corridor running from Decatur to Downtown that’s so riddled with potholes it’s currently highlighted with white paint to help motorists and cyclists avoid hitting them.
The DeKalb Avenue Safety Improvement Project includes road resurfacing, the removal of the infamous “suicide lane,” which has been a source of many accidents, and bike-friendly infrastructure, including 40 LED lights in the Krog Street tunnel.
After years of delays, Phase I has begun, and the work is expected to be completed by the end of 2023, said Farokhi, who represents intown neighborhoods like Candler Park and Inman Park that abut the east-west corridor.
“Dekalb Avenue is in my district, and my predecessor wanted to get it done. I’ve wanted it done … It has been the most deflating issue in my district,” said Farokhi. “But [the project] should be completed this year.”
The most encouraging local transportation news is that a hefty portion of the $750 million infrastructure package that voters approved last year–$460.2 million–is earmarked for transportation. Plus, federal money is coming metro Atlanta’s way via President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which includes $923 million for metro Atlanta’s public transit systems and various road and highway improvement plans.
“We’re in a really good position thanks to Senators Ossoff and Warnock, and we’re well positioned to make the most of a really special opportunity that we haven’t had for a while,” said council member Matt Westmoreland.
FIND OUT ABOUT ATLANTA’S ROAD & TRANSIT INITIATIVES
- Want to know more about the status of DeKalb Avenue? The city of Atlanta’s Transportation and Watershed Management Departments are holding a community meeting on March 9 at Israel Baptist Church, located at 2071 Hosea Williams Dr. SE.
- Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee meets twice monthly and meetings are open to the public via YouTube. Check the schedule here.
- Attend MARTA’s public meetings, or find out about each More MARTA transit project here.