Atlanta voices discontent over process for picking MARTA’s $2.5 billion project list

By David Pendered

The chair of the Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee says he is not happy with the way MARTA’s $2.5 billion expansion plan pits winners against losers, and he said City Hall will soon be releasing its thoughts on expansion proposals that are due for a vote by MARTA’s board on Oct. 4.

Transportation Committee Chairperson Andre Dickens said at Wednesday’s meeting:

Andre Dickens

Andre Dickens

  • “I don’t like the way this came out as just a bunch of projects, and now we have to pick winners and losers. Now we have people saying, ‘My side [of town]. Your side [of town].’ … Now we have to pick like we’re picking at the dollar menu at Wendy’s…. That makes people feel you lost something if your menu item wasn’t chosen.”

Dickens, who is elected citywide, reminded listeners that the Atlanta City Council has no direct vote in the transit package. That’s a matter for the board that oversees MARTA. Atlanta holds three of the board’s 13 seats with a vote. Coincidentally, Atlanta’s delegation includes a member who chairs MARTA’s board, Atlanta attorney Robert Ashe.

“We are going to use our influence, because we don’t vote on behalf of MARTA,” Dickens said. “MARTA is their own entity. They will vote. But we have representatives that will listen to what City Hall and the citizens of Atlanta have to say, and they will vote accordingly – hopefully.”

The starkest example of the winner/loser approach pits the Atlanta BeltLine against a trolley line to serve Emory University and nearby destinations.

The merits of each proposed route seems lost in the din of debate over whether Emory elbowed into the process at the expense of the BeltLine trolley line. A survey shows the public is equally divided over which of the two routes they prefer.

MARTA’s survey conducted over the summer shows the following results, out of 7,024 responses gathered:

MARTA survey 9:13:18

A MARTA survey conducted this past summer shows the two most popular proposed routes enjoy support that is equally divided between the Atlanta BeltLine’s Northeast route and the Clifton corridor. Credit: itsmarta.com

  • Clifton corridor light rail transit – 3,607, or 51.35 percent of responses.
  • BeltLine Northeast Trail transit – 3,572, or 50.85 percent of responses;

The two responses don’t appear to provide much illumination for MARTA board members to determine which, if either, of the two routes to prioritize.

Likewise, one project that does have strong support from MARTA doesn’t have much buy-in from survey respondents.

The Campbellton Road corridor, which is to be developed with bus rapid transit and smart street technology, garnered just 519 responses in favor of construction, representing 7.39 percent of all responses.

Former state Sen. Vincent Fort, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2017, said at the Transportation Committee meeting that this route did not bubble up from the public. Rather, it was developed at City Hall and imprinted into the transit plan, he said.

Atlanta Streetcar

MARTA’s board is contemplating a $2.5 billion transit expansion plan that includes additional miles for the Atlanta Streetcar. File/Credit: Maria Saporta

Dickens said MARTA’s board agreed to Atlanta’s request to postpone its vote on the project list from September to a later date that’s now set for Oct. 4.

“We asked them to move it back so there’s more community engagement,” Dickens said. “There have been meetings and events all around the city, to gather more input from citizens.”

Dickens suggested the input may have crystallized:

  • “I think you’re going to hear something come out of City Hall soon. We’re trying to formulate a thought about how we proceed.
  • “We’re going to be forming an opinion on how we want to proceed. Equity is the most important to me, and access – those people who are far removed from stations and locations, getting them into the system.”

Dickens delivered his personal remarks after the public comment section of the meeting had lasted about 45 minutes. More than a dozen city residents, and others concerned about public transit, stepped forward to share their views on the proposed project list.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. Charles Paine says:

    I’m glad to see Councilman Dickens looking into how the project list and the survey were developed to give “public support” for Atlanta footing the entire bill to build the Clifton Corridor. Don’t get me wrong- It’s a great idea, but it was not in the city when we voted for the regressive sales tax. Focus on the places that were in Atlanta in 2016, Campbellton Rd, the full Beltline loop, Armour yard, and other intown transit. We need to accommodate the people that will be living intown as the urban core’s population skyrockets and put our fair share of the Clifton Corridor to the side until other jurisdictions benefitting from the project cough up some funding too.Report

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  2. RCE says:

    I honestly believe the survey was not available to the residents on the west and south side of the city. There were not enough public meetings, etc. For the residents of the city that use the system 7 days a week as a their major mode of transportation, MARTA over looked them for the projects in the “white” part of the city that are ” sometimes” riders. MARTA needs to consider rail expansion WEST to Adamsville and FIB and Campbellton Road needs a BRT line that can eventually expand west to Douglas. In addition, focus on beltline transit from Lindbergh through the east side to the west side atReport

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  3. NA says:

    The Clifton Corridor should NOT be funded by the MARTA/ transportation sales tax. Dekalb county should pick up some of this tab or else its a non-starter. While I think the project makes some sense, not at the cost of compromising other in-town transportation in places where people actually voted for the sales tax in 2016. I completely agree with Charles Paine’s comments above.Report

    Reply

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