The $1.2 trillion, bi-partisan infrastructure bill introduced in the U.S. Senate Sunday night could mean more federal transit dollars for metro Atlanta.
Negotiations among senators lasted through the weekend before the 2,700-page bill was rolled out Sunday night.
MARTA chief executive Jeffrey Parker says a potential huge win for metro Atlanta is a proposed increase the upper limit for federal transit grants known as Small Starts – from $300 million to $400 million.
“Many of our projects – not all, but many of them, like BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] in Clayton County; many of our arterial rapid transit bus programs on Metropolitan and Cleveland; and even potentially investments along the Campbellton Road corridor, will likely get Small Starts money,” said Parker.
Another item the bill proposes is a change in the way federal transit dollars are allocated. Parker says that could mean an extra $35 million annually for MARTA.
“In order just to maintain the system, we need to rely on this federal formula money,” said Parker.
One change that is so far not included in the infrastructure bill is a proposal from Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock that would give agencies like MARTA more flexibility in using federal transit money.
“Being able to use more of our federal formula funds for operating dollars,” Parker said. “We see huge opportunities to focus on corridors where we could increase the frequency of bus service in areas where we’re trying to improve job access. That’s really an important thing that this region needs.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he’s hopeful the infrastructure bill can pass in a matter of days and can move on to the House.
Parker says ridership on MARTA has recovered to 60% of pre-pandemic levels, and he says spending on infrastructure now is critical.
“The region has some local funds to match to seek federal dollars,” said Parker. “It is the lifeblood of a growing economy, investing in transit like we’re prepared to do.”