DeKalb mayors want transformative transportation investments 

DeKalb County and the rest of Georgia could benefit from the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a bi-partisan effort which White House officials stated is the largest long-term investment in infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century.

The investment is expected to bring funding opportunities to infrastructure plans ranging from express rapid transit to internet access. Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said it will give local officials a chance to fund projects that have been talked about in DeKalb for decades.

“Funding was finally delivered in bipartisan fashion to pay for these things,” added Ernst. “It’s basically taking all of these plans everyone has talked about for 40 years and putting them into action.”

White House officials said in a press release that Georgia should expect to receive $8.9 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over five years. A press release states that Georgia can also compete for the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges and nearly $16 billion of national funding in the bill dedicated for major projects that will deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.

Ernst said the bill could be transformative for the entire county and that he hopes the local funding focuses on transportation, specifically expanding express rapid transit options through MARTA.

“If we did express rapid transit all throughout DeKalb County, then a person in Stonecrest could get to about 800,000 jobs,” said Ernst. “If you go the heavy rail people are talking about, you only get 100,000 jobs within an hour of rapid transit.”

White House officials said the investment is particularly important to Georgia, stating that “for decades, the infrastructure in Georgia has suffered from a systemic lack of investment.”

“In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Georgia a C [minus] grade on its infrastructure report card,” according to the White House press release.

Clarkston Mayor Beverly Burks added that the infrastructure investment could also create 400,000 jobs in Georgia over the next 10 years. Burks emphasized how important the investment could be for south DeKalb and said she hopes to see investments in transportation and more equity in areas such as internet access. 

“It includes $923 million for metro Atlanta public transportation,” said Burks. “We need more MARTA stations and MARTA satellites in south DeKalb, and this is another area to help our residents and improve access to mobility.”

White House officials said there are 374 bridges and 2,260 miles of highway in Georgia in poor condition; Burks said she wants to see some of the funding go toward making travel safer by repairing bridges, filling potholes, and making other roadway improvements.
Burks said she also hopes to see the investment impact a non-transportation related area in Clarkston.

“We want to focus on transportation and broadband,” said Burks. “COVID brought out the fact that many of our residents still suffer from inequity in terms of access. We need to make sure we use this bipartisan bill to improve high-speed internet.”

Ernst said adding more transit options through the county would increase access to jobs, and better connect metro Atlanta commerce and could help problems such as traffic. Adding express rapid transit to the top end of I-285 is something Ernst said all the top-end mayors agree on.

Brookhaven has also built the first mile of Peachtree Creek Greenway and hopes for additional funding to connect to the Atlanta Beltline—a multi-use path in Atlanta that US Sen. Raphael Warnock said is receiving $16 million in funding.

Once the beltline and its connecting trails are complete, Ernst said it will allow people to travel from different parts of Atlanta without driving in cars or sitting in traffic. Ernst added that building different forms of transportation could alleviate some of Atlanta’s traffic problem but that it will provide an alternative form of travel either way.

“So, if someone from Cobb wants to eat on Buford Highway, they could get there on bikes without getting on a road. It’s not that far, but traffic in Atlanta makes it seem like they’re impossibly far,” said Ernst. “Our studies show … it is usually faster to take express lane transit from Tucker to Braves games.” 

Another area the investment could provide money for is electric vehicle accessibility. White House officials said Georgia should expect to receive $135 million over five years to support and expand its electric vehicle charging network.

“Brookhaven was the first city to have an electric police car on patrol in the state,” said Ernst.  “While I don’t control schools, I think [purchasing electric buses] is an important thing. DeKalb County has a lot of money going to buses and they could maximize that by using the infrastructure bill to buy electric buses.”

Funding from the infrastructure plan can also impact airports, water systems, and help prepare for extreme weather. Read more about the plan at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/bipartisan-infrastructure-law/

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