Questions you might have heard on the proposed Gwinnett MARTA expansion
What is the actual cost? I hear $5.5 billion from Gwinnett
The actual cost over 30 years is projected to be just under $12 billion (assuming the project comes in on budget). No, we are not making this up – it comes directly from page 159 of the County’s Transportation Plan:
Will the system be profitable?
Hardly. The table below (from page 160 of the County’s plan) shows that the system is projected to take in only $842 million of the projected costs of $12 billion. That means that revenue from fares will only cover 7% of the cost of the system. Here is the revenue funding from the report:
Will the system at least be more profitable than the one Gwinnett has now?
Uh, No. At least for Gwinnett taxpayers only have to pay 14% of the cost of the system. Once we combine with MARTA, over the next 30 years (the limit of the County’s projections) taxpayers will be paying 93% of the bill. Again, this assumes that the government projections will match what we actually have to spend. By way of reference we list here all of the government projects that have come in under budget:
Is bus ridership increasing?
No. Gwinnett County bus ridership is now just sixty percent of what it was 8 years ago. The Express Service (pointed to as the most popular) has seen an almost 20% year to year decline in the past three years. Bus ridership nationwide was down almost 20% since 2008 and is now at its lowest level in the past 30 years.
If the busses reduce traffic at least somewhat, won’t that help?
It is impossible to point to any city in the US which has seen less traffic after expanding their bus service. There is an equilibrium of sorts to traffic – when it gets too bad, people find alternatives (move, telecommute, transit, carpool, etc.). When it improves people opt for the convenience of their cars. If some transit miracle reduced congestion by even 5% there would be enough drivers back on the road to cause it to reach the same level in no time.
In 1962, transportation researcher Anthony Downs suggested that U.S. cities suffered from a fundamental law of highway congestion: “This Law states that on urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.” What was the case half a century ago remains true today. Except worse.
They say it is only a 1% tax increase. Is that true?
That is not exactly what they are saying. They are saying it is only a penny increase. People are implying that is a 1% increase. The ‘penny’ sales tax increase is actually a 17% increase in the total amount of sales tax we pay each year (from current 6% to 7%) NOT a 1% increase. But since only 2% of that sales tax is for Gwinnett, the one penny tax represents a 50% increase in the amount of Gwinnett sales tax we pay.
Isn’t MARTA’s financial situation improving?
Technically, yes. While still $2.2 billion in debt, the financial outlook is a bit improved. Why? They have refinanced a bunch of their debt and, thanks to the economy, are receiving more in tax revenue. But their service (and most importantly ridership) has not improved. But people with experience with MARTA still say that unless they can bring in additional funding they will need even more money to stay afloat.
Do we know the total cost of the project?
Not entirely. All of the 30-year numbers are just projections. While the County says these numbers are conservative, that is only while Charlotte Nash is serving as Chairman. Commissioner Nash barely won her last election, and if management of the County changes all bets are off as to how the spending will be managed. MARTA has the right to readjust the required payments from Gwinnett as needed.
Wouldn’t the train ride from the new station be popular when heading downtown or to the airport?
It isn’t now. Take a look at the occupancy of a typical MARTA rail car on a workday morning in February of this year:
Will MARTA bring more crime?
You can easily find evidence on both sides of this, but if you talk with a police officer who had direct involvement with a new station they will tell you that they saw increased crime at first. The police responded with increased patrols and other enhanced safety measures and were able to bring crime down before too long. However, take a look at the rules that are posted on every MARTA train:
It is not encouraging that they have to have rules like:
- Do not Litter
- Do not Vandalize
- Do not Write Graffiti
- Do not Carry Weapons
- Do not Assault MARTA Employees
One would hope that the average Gwinnett County citizen would not have to be reminded of these things.