After election dust settles: Transit expansion continues in Atlanta, Clayton County
By David Pendered
Transit expansion in metro Atlanta will continue in Atlanta and Clayton County. The region will go without eye-popping transit projects once envisioned in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties, nor will Newton County pilot a transit system, in the foreseeable future.
The two ongoing transit projects include:
- In Downtown Atlanta, building the Summerhill bus rapid transit route;
- In Clayton County, expanding facilities at the first transit hub in Clayton, at the Clayton Justice Center Transit Hub, and ongoing installation of bus stop amenities throughout the county.
Two major initiatives that are not going forward were either rejected by voters or not put on the ballot. In addition, Newton County voters rejected a transit proposal that received scant attention outside the county:
- Gwinnett voters rejected a plan to extend heavy rail into their county. The rejection means there are no plans to increase transit to and from a county on track to have the region’s largest population, of a projected 1.48 million residents by 2050, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission. The rail line was part of a $12.2 billion, 30-year proposal;
- DeKalb County’s Board of Commissioners chose to not seek voter approval of funding for a long-discussed rail line to serve the dense cluster of development at Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The route was in a transit package the board approved in July 2019, and which many had expected to be added to the Nov. 3 ballot;
- Newton County voters turned down a pilot transit service. It amounted to $2 million in a $56 transportation program that was to be funded with a 1% sales tax for five years.
MARTA is actively working on the projects in Atlanta and Clayton County.
On Thursday, an update on the Summerhill project is slated to include a presentation on the route and station locations, followed by a question/answer session. The virtual meeting is scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Details and registration information are available here.
The route is required to open by August 2024 and construction must begin by August 2022, according to terms of a federal grant helping to fund the project. MARTA is seeking a consultant to oversee final engineering and design. The deadline for submissions was Nov. 13. No award date appeared to be cited in the Request for Expressions of Interest.
In Clayton County, the focus is on improving the rider experience while waiting for a bus. MARTA is on schedule to install 30 bus stop amenities this year, and 30 additional bus stop amenities are to be completed in 2021. This is the immediate aim of MARTA’s plan to address 150 bus stop amenities over a 5-year period, according to a Sept. 26 virtual update on the Clayton County efforts.
The installation of such amenities is not always a simple process, according to a presentation by Frank Rucker, MARTA’s chief of planning, programs and innovation. Rucker said challenges include:
- Gaining support from disinterested property owners and issues with a site that can’t be overcome;
- Slow permitting time from the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Around the country, voters approved 15 of 18 transit initiatives on the Nov. 3 ballot, according to a report of final ballot counts in the trade publication masstransitmag.com. Georgia accounted for two of the three failed initiatives. Portland voters rejected a payroll tax on employers to provide for a $7 billion toward the TriMet Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project.