MARTA exec says all eyes are on Clayton

Says nation looking to see what will be done about transit

ATLANTA — Clayton County is the center of attention for transportation planners who want to know if the county will green light public transit’s return or leave it idling at the stop sign, a top MARTA official announced this week.

The county has been without mass transit since the C-Tran system was shut down in 2010, but elected leaders have shown an interest over the last year in bringing it back.

Rhonda Biggins, MARTA’s senior director of external affairs, told business leaders Tuesday that the county has turned heads because it became an example of what a community goes through when it loses transit. The fact that it is now trying to bring it back has added to the interest, she said.

“The nation is really watching Clayton County and trying to figure out what you all are going to do,” said Biggins.

Biggins’ comments on transportation at Clayton County Chamber Day at the Capitol come at a time when a lot of movement is taking place on the transit front in Clayton County.

The county commission approved funding and a contract for a transit feasibility study earlier this month. A proposed house bill authored by state Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) to give commissioners the authority to call for a referendum on joining MARTA also passed out of the state House of Representatives Wednesday.

Glanton’s legislation, which he has repeatedly stressed is intended to give county commissioners an option on how to revive transit, is now headed to the Senate. If it becomes law, and if commissioners call for the referendum, voters in the county would go to the polls later this year to decide whether a one-percent sales tax should be implemented to join MARTA.

Biggins said MARTA is already in a position to bring transit back to the county if voters decide to join the system. The bus and rail system was the contractual operator of C-Tran until it was shut down by commissioners.

However, she said there will be challenges the county would have to overcome after a vote takes place. Not the least of those challenges is regaining the federal government’s trust in the county’s commitment to transit.

“When the commission decided to eliminate the transit system, you all had federal dollars and those federal dollars were already kinda locked into place,” said Biggins. “If the federal government — if you decide to put a system into place — is going to want a commitment from Clayton County.

“If you can get all of your ducks in a row and really show the federal government you’re serious, I’m pretty sure they will try their best to expedite and get things in line for you guys,” she added.