Atlanta transit agency’s $2.7B expansion program will get city council-mandated audit

The Atlanta City Council voted Monday to initiate a financial audit of More MARTA Atlanta, the signature capital program of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. MARTA operates an extensive rail and bus system that serves the city of Atlanta and Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties.

In 2019, the MARTA Board of Directors approved More MARTA Atlanta, a slate of 17 projects at a projected cost of $2.7 billion that would add new light rail lines, bus rapid transit and arterial rapid transit and make station improvements. Some of the funding is coming from a half-cent sales tax that Atlanta voters approved in 2016. The first five projects were to be partially or fully in service by 2025. However, according to news reports, MARTA has begun construction on just one project as of last month, the Summerhill bus rapid transit line, which is expected to be completed in 2025. 

Last year, according to a MARTA statement, the agency contracted with HDR, an engineering and construction service firm, to “develop a dynamic financial model to account for changes in project costs, delivery dates, [and] state and federal funding opportunities.” 

But in January, the Atlanta City Council began to question MARTA’s ability to deliver on all 17 projects after a former high-ranking MARTA executive alleged in a social media post that “a third-party financial capacity analysis draft report projected a revenue shortfall in excess of $1 Billion for More Marta Atlanta.” 

MARTA General Manager and CEO Collie Greenwood unveiled a scaled-down program at a March 1 meeting of the Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee. The new proposal focuses on nine priority projects to be completed by 2028 at a cost of nearly $2 billion. The projects include the Summerhill bus rapid transit line that is under construction, two additional bus rapid transit lines, two arterial transit lines, extending the Atlanta streetcar, upgrading two rail stations and a new multimodal transit hub. The proposal postpones other projects until at least 2035, according to news reports.  

That didn’t satisfy members of the Atlanta City Council. Council President Doug Shipman, as quoted by Rough Draft Atlanta, said, “I still don’t believe we have a clear understanding of what money has been spent, what money plans to be spent and what money we will have for projects in the future.” The Council asked MARTA to initiate the process for a financial audit of the program by March 29.

MARTA issued a statement calling the City Council’s actions “disappointing and disingenuous.” It warned that “such a review will obligate MARTA to pause work on all More MARTA Atlanta projects, with the exception of the federally funded Summerhill BRT and Five Points Transformation, until this matter is resolved.”

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