Like It or Not: MARTA & I-85

Opinion piece by Lyle V. Harris

When a section of I-85 melted right before our very eyes, plenty of people said it was, “like a scene out of a movie.”

Here’s what I’d call it:  “Towering Inferno: The Rise of MARTA,” because the transit agency is killing it at the box office right now. Their ridership is up 25 percent since the disaster.

Many of the 255 thousand commuters who usually drive that stretch of 85 are packing onto MARTA buses and trains.
So many, in fact, that 10 of MARTA’s parking lots have been sold out on weekdays.

Even Gwinnett County, which rejected MARTA in favor of its own transit system, is making a rare cameo appearance at two MARTA stations, re-routing some transit buses so Gwinnett riders can board MARTA directly at the Doraville and Chamblee train stations. 

State transportation officials estimate I-85 won’t reopen until mid-June.

So, since MARTA will be center stage for months, now is the time to talk seriously about making it better, about spending the money and political capital to make it the kind of system this region deserves. A system that more riders will want to use once this latest crisis is over  -- and before another crisis hits.

For that to happen, the state needs to get in on the act.

Did you know that the State of Georgia doesn’t contribute a dime to help operate transit systems like MARTA? That’s sad and shortsighted. Studies show that every dollar spent on transit generates four dollars in economic returns.

Full disclosure: I was the agency’s spokesman for nearly eight years. Before that, I covered MARTA as a journalist and was one of its harshest critics.

And I get it; most people in metro Atlanta prefer to drive. That may never change.

But every single day, MARTA is an invaluable asset for thousands of people who don’t own a car -- or can’t drive.

On top of that, MARTA keeps tens of thousands of cars off the road, which relieves traffic for those of us who do drive.

House lawmakers just approved a resolution creating a new Commission on Transit Governance and Funding, acknowledging the need for regional transportation solutions to keep our economy moving.

And right on cue, the I-85 disaster underlined the need.

It’s a matter of priorities.

Several years ago, Governor Deal signed a bill that committed 10 billion dollars for our roads over the next 10 years, and that’s good.

Now is the time for the Governor and the state legislature to focus on making MARTA a world-class complement to our roads – and our airport.

Over the next two months, when you find yourself sitting in traffic – or trying to find a parking space at a MARTA lot – think about what you’d say to the Governor and our state lawmakers to convince them that better transit is important to our future.

Then call or write – and demand it. Here is contact information for the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House…

But don’t  for the politicians to do the right thing. If you want to get directly involved in improving metro Atlanta’s biggest transit system, you should join the MARTA Army.
These dedicated volunteers don’t work for the agency. But they’re on the front lines helping MARTA to do more and do better by its customers. You can find them online at MARTA Army dot org and on Twitter and Facebook.

This isn’t a movie, of course. But you too can play an important role in ensuring a happy ending to metro Atlanta’s  traffic horror show.

I’m Lyle Harris and that’s my opinion. Like it, or not.

DISCLAIMER: This segment represents the views of the commentator and not necessarily those of FOX 5 Atlanta.