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Is Cobb on Board?

Unlike Gwinnett, which has voted on MARTA a couple of times, Cobb County has never had a referendum on the Atlanta transit system since the authority was founded nearly forty years ago. Will we ever get rail up here?

Tough time to ask that question: MARTA is staring down the wrong end of a $120 million operations deficit. Earlier this year, the transit authority threatened to cut 30 percent of its lines—until it got a last-minute reprieve from the state legislature, which temporarily freed up some sales tax revenue for operations. Says Faye DiMassimo, director of Cobb’s Department of Transportation: “Community support and funding are the two things that have prevented MARTA’s expansion. Funding, especially, is a dramatic deterrent.”

But just because you won’t be seeing MARTA in Cobb anytime soon doesn’t mean you’ll never see rail there. In 2008, the Transit Planning Board—a joint venture of MARTA, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority—developed “Concept 3,” the Atlanta region’s future transit vision. According to Sam Olens, who left his long-time post as Cobb County Commission chair in March, it was the first comprehensive metro transit study in more than four decades. Cobb is interested in rail, just not necessarily MARTA, says Olens. There’s also interest in being part of a regional transit system that would not only stop in Cobb County, but would have significant infrastructure there. Unfortunately, the environmental impact studies alone are likely to take several years, and the project would have to obtain mostly local and federal funding.

Illustration by Edwin Fotheringham

Got an Atlanta question? E-mail Charles Bethea at askcharles@atlantamag.emmis.com