Rail In GA

9 Reasons Why Rail Transit Makes Sense for Metro Atlanta

September 15, 2011

Metro Atlanta and the entire state of Georgia will miss out on a great opportunity if Georgia Commuter Rail is not added to the Regional Roundtable’s transportation project list. Fair Share for Transit, an organization that supports Georgia Commuter Rail, provides the below reasons to explain why rail transit makes sense for Georgia:

1. Polls, surveys and town hall meetings show that people from around the region want more transit.

  • There are many examples, but two can illustrate.  First, in 10 Telephone Town Halls conducted June 13 – 22 by the Atlanta Regional Commission for the Regional Transportation Roundtable, with more than 134,000 total participants, area residents showed resounding support for new transit when asked:
    • Do you think new transit is critical to the long term success of the region?
      • 70.9% yes
      • 21.1% no
  • Second, in a May 2010 poll of 400 voters conducted by Public Opinion Strategies/FM3 for Smart Growth America and the Livable Communities Coalition:
    • 63 percent said they would be more likely to vote for the sales tax if half or more of the revenues went toward transit/bike/sidewalk infrastructure.
    • More than half said the following projects were important to them:  maintaining roads, keeping transit affordable, increasing options for commuters, expanding options for seniors/disabled, and improving MARTA service.

2. Rail transit means business and jobs.

  • Rail construction projects generate even more jobs than roads. A report published in February of this year analyzed the impact of federal stimulus spending on transportation projects.  It concluded that money spent on rail transit construction yielded 70 percent more job hours than the equivalent amount of money spent on road construction.
  • Rail increases workers’ access to jobs. In Plan 2040, the Atlanta Regional Commission compares peak and off-peak travel times: “More than 3 million people can access downtown Atlanta, in 40 minutes or less, during off-peak periods. This decreases to 1.3 million people during peak travel periods. This shrinks the peak period travel shed to that of a smaller city, similar to Raleigh-Durham, Nashville and Charlotte.”  In other words, our region is throwing away what should be a major competitive business advantage – a bigger pool of workers from which companies can draw. By connecting people to major job centers like Midtown Atlanta and Cumberland/Cobb Galleria, rail will provide more people with predictable, rush hour-proof commutes to work.
  • Metro Atlanta’s traffic problems are notorious, and rail helps manage traffic congestion.  Metro Atlanta’s traffic delays have been noted by Forbes magazine, the Texas Transportation Institute, and the Brookings Institution among many others. Meanwhile, a study of Denver’s southwest light rail line, where transit ridership jumped 2,000 people when the corridor was served by bus to 13,000 after the light rail line opened, estimated that the light rail line carried between 28 and 33 percent of corridor passenger traffic.
  • Savvy business people watch their competitors, and metro Atlanta’s competitors are building rail. Dallas, Houston and Charlotte are building rail, and so are other Sunbelt cities such as Phoenix and Salt Lake City – even Los Angeles.  Even Los Angeles, which invented sprawl, is building rail, including subway, light rail and high-speed rail service.  That all comes on top of a bus system so extensive that it already makes Los Angeles No. 2 in the nation in terms of percentage of its population with access to transit.  Metro Atlanta is No. 85 on the same list.
  • Gas prices can only rise over time, and rail can help insulate the region’s businesses and workers from gas price shocks. Regions that offer rail transit can offer workers – and their families and employers – valuable savings potential and convenient alternatives when gas prices rise, as they inevitably must.  Rail also meets a goal voiced in focus groups in metro Atlanta – reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil.

3. Rail ridership benefits everyone — even those who don’t ride.

A study of congestion along travel corridors with rail transit service in six cities found that “transit passengers saved 17,443 hours daily.  By removing these would-be motorists from highway segments with the same destinations as transit, transit saved motorists an additional 21,981 daily hours.”

4. Rail successfully expands the transit market.

Where it is available, rail competes favorably for riders of choice – riders who have cars but choose to ride rail transit.  In Chicago, for example, 85.6 percent of riders on the Metra commuter lines have a car available for their commutes but choose to ride Metra instead.  In San Diego, 41 percent of “trolley” light rail service customers have a car available and ride rail by choice.

5. Next year’s referendum is transit’s best shot to secure meaningful new funding.

Most state transportation spending is constitutionally limited to roads and bridges, so next year’s sale tax election is the only opportunity on the horizon for significant new public transportation funding.  It also creates opportunities to attract significant new federal matching funds – something Atlanta has not been able to do for decades.

6. Even with the projects proposed on the draft list, transit represents only 22 percent of total transportation spending over the next decade.

Total transportation spending over the next decade is expected to exceed $16 billion.  The proposed sales tax referendum would raise $6.14 billion for regional projects and another $1 billion for discretionary spending by counties.  Add to that the $9 billion that will likely be spent through the region’s customary Transportation Improvement Program, the usual source of funding for big road projects.  The amount proposed for transit in the draft list, $3.4 billion, is just 22 percent of that $16 billion.

7. Rail fits new development trends and increases property values.

Metro Atlanta will add half again as many people as it has now over the next 30 years – 2.8 million new residents in addition to the 5.3 million already here.  As new residents look for housing that is within reasonable commuting distance of jobs, the region will inevitably see much more of the denser development like the townhouse subdivisions that now dot our suburban as well as core counties; mid-rise and high-rise buildings in Midtown and Buckhead; and the mixed-use developments appearing near new town centers such as those in Smyrna, Lawrenceville, Marietta and Suwannee.  This movement toward walkable urban development is growing and serving this denser development pattern with only roads will become increasingly difficult.  Rail, on the other hand, thrives in serving denser development, and can provide big fiscal benefits as well.

  • Rail best serves changing demographics.  By 2030, just 19 years out, one of every five area residents will be 60 years old or older.  Will driving be the only option we offer aging residents?
  • Rail can raise property values. Proof can be found in cities ranging from Dallas to San Francisco.  In Dallas, properties near new light rail stations have risen by as much as 65 percent.  In the San Francisco Bay area, a study found that residential prices in one county rose $2.29 for every meter closer to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail service.  In another county, it was $1.96.  Overall, study authors estimated that homes immediately adjacent to a BART station sell for 38 percent more than ones without access to rail.

8. Metro Atlanta is already too big to be served by roads alone.

And it’s getting bigger.  The 2010 Census counted 5.3 million residents in the 20-county Atlanta region.   It’s expected that by 2030, just 19 years from now, our region will have 7.4 million people.  By 2040, our population will easily exceed 8 million.  The only American city of that size that didn’t have extensive rail service was Los Angeles – and that’s changing fast.

9. Special taxes should produce special results.  Rail offers the only fresh approach, the only true alternative.

Voters will want to know why they should vote for this penny tax.  While a portion of the proceeds should go to needed road projects, voters will also want to know that the region is changing old habits to  produce a different outcome this time.

Comments (2)


  1. Excellent set of points! However I don’t think enough focus has been put on point #6.

    The claim by the Roundtable that the Transportation Investment Act has 55% going to transit is political double-speak. When you ‘follow the money,’ a 22% investment in transit means that we’re still planning on automobile dependence for the next 15-20 years. I don’t think we can make the Connector wide enough to handle that and continue to grow.

    Atlanta claims to want to be a world-class city, but seems unwilling or unable to make the shift in thinking required to actually rise to the challenge.

    Comment by Terry Bond — September 16, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

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