Feb 21, 2024 - News

Decades after rejecting MARTA, Cobb proposes sales tax for transit plan

Illustration of a public bus made of a $100 bill and quarters

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

MARTA isn't coming to the suburbs — but a proposed 1% sales tax could bring the suburbs to MARTA.

Why it matters: Cobb County, whose population swelled due to mid-20th century white flight from Atlanta, famously voted down a proposal to expand MARTA in 1965. After six decades of prioritizing road-centric projects to keep up with growth, the county wants to offer transportation alternatives to a car-dependent population.

The latest: County commissioners approved a $287,000 contract last month with consulting group Kimley-Horn to begin a public outreach campaign about the proposed Mobility Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (MSPLOST), which will be on the ballot in November.

If approved, the 30-year tax would fund:

  • $6 billion for buses shuttling large numbers of riders from Marietta and other Cobb areas to job and activity centers and MARTA stations;
  • $2.8 billion for local and commuter bus routes; and
  • $500 million for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, as Thomas previously reported.

What they're saying: The Atlanta Regional Commission's latest forecast shows Cobb's population will exceed 1 million people by 2050, and "if all those people are going to move here, everyone is still going to be car-dependent," said Matthew Stigall, a transit advocate and member of the Cobb 4 Transit grassroots organization.

  • We're going to keep adding more and more cars to the road, and what we've seen is that adding more lanes and more car infrastructure … doesn't help congestion," he said. "It doesn't help move people around."
  • Investing in bike lanes, transit and more sidewalks will create "a safe and scalable transportation network" for everyone, Stigall told Axios.

Of note: The list also includes "aspirational" projects that wouldn't be funded with the sales tax but could be further explored in conjunction with other agencies.

  • They include commuter rail and heavy rail transit to MARTA's Arts Center, H.E. Holmes and Bankhead stations.

The other side: Cobb County Board of Education chairman Randy Scamihorn wrote earlier this month in a blog post on the school district's website that the tax would increase the number of transient families and students and is an attempt to solve problems that have "nothing to do" with the county.

  • Stigall tells Axios that it was sad to see Scamihorn use school resources to employ "racist and classist tropes to block an initiative that would help families across the county."

The bottom line: Commission Chair Lisa Cupid told Axios that while the county can't advocate either for or against the referendum, it will begin the process of educating residents about what they will be voting on in November.

  • "At the end of the day, you know, this is for the citizens to determine," she said. "Not for us as elected officials to make that decision."

Be smart: Check out the details of Cobb's MSPLOST proposed projects.


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