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BeltLine boosters to MARTA: rail, now

MARTA's proposal for bus and light rail builds with a new sales tax. Click for a larger version. Credit: MARTA

MARTA's proposal for bus and light rail builds with a new sales tax. Click for a larger version. Credit: MARTA

By Maggie Lee

As MARTA ponders how to spend a new Atlanta sales tax worth $2.5 billion over 40 years, BeltLine rail advocates say a ring of rail belongs at the top of the priority list.

Most of the dozen or so people who addressed MARTA’s board on Wednesday afternoon came to talk about Atlanta’s new transit sales tax, explaining that they want to make sure it funds light rail along the under-construction 22-mile trail, ASAP.

Brandon Sutton said he lives in Cabbagetown, that his business is is on the Eastside Trail and that the promise of the BeltLine to radically transform Atlanta is what’s kept him here.

He said he voted for a new Atlanta sales tax for transit in 2016 because he believed the vote would get the rail built, part of the original BeltLine plan.

But he’s not happy with the priorities MARTA has published.

MARTA’s proposal for bus and light rail builds with a new sales tax. Click for a larger version. Credit: MARTA

“The priorities as they stand now will have absolutely no impact on life in my part of town, but I’ll be taxed for the next 40 years to pay for them,” he told the board.

What MARTA’s proposed for light rail is a zig-zag line from Greenbriar, through West End, Downtown, Virginia Highlands, then a branch to Buckhead and another to Emory.

That includes about seven miles of rail along east and southwest portions of the BeltLine, but not the whole 22-mile loop.

Ryan Gravel, the urban design consultant whose Georgia Tech masters thesis became the BeltLine, has been urging political leaders not to neglect transit on the trail. Transit, he wrote, was the driving force behind the BeltLine’s original promise to repair Atlanta’s fragmentation, disinvestment and decline, especially in low-income communities of color.

He urged leaders not forget about those people who got on board with the BeltLine because they were promised transit.

“Literally we wouldn’t be building it without those people, their advocacy, and their support for transit. But a lot of them are getting pushed out, gentrification. We’re not seeing the ladders of opportunity for them, other things that would come with transit,” Gravel said Wednesday, after speaking to the MARTA board.

He and others presented arguments for the loop on Tuesday night, at a public meeting of a campaign group called Beltline Rail Now.

Several of the Wednesday MARTA speakers took shots at the so-called “Clifton Corridor” part of the light rail scenario: the spur out to Emory.

The Emory area wasn’t part of the city of Atlanta when folks like Sutton voted for a transportation sales tax 2016.  But now it is — and plenty of people think the area is jumping in line ahead of places that have long been part of the city.

But the Clifton Corridor is the largest employment center in the region that has no direct access to MARTA or a highway, said Betty Willis, president of the Clifton Corridor Transportation Management Association. That’s a group mainly of employers, including Emory University, where Willis is senior associate vice president for government and community affairs.

There are thousands of jobs in the corridor, she said, and not just for doctors or people who have a college degree.

MARTA's plan would see the city's existing streetcar linked into a light rail line from Cambellton to parts of northeast Atlanta. Credit: Kelly Jordan

MARTA’s plan would see the city’s existing streetcar linked into a light rail line from Greenbriar to parts of northeast Atlanta. Credit: Kelly Jordan

“By having this transit line, it will give direct access to those thousands of jobs for people who cannot get to the Clifton Corridor, can’t afford to live anywhere near it, don’t want to have a car, can’t afford a car,” Willis said.

She said it’s “misinformation” that Emory is a Johnny-come-lately, and that transit to the neighborhood is something that agencies like the Atlanta Regional Commission and MARTA have been thinking about for years.

The BeltLine Rail Now plan counters that Clifton connectivity is a regional project — that Atlanta should pay a share of of it, but so should other jurisdictions, like maybe the state.

MARTA itself is going through a public involvement phase and it’s good to hear from citizens and residents, said General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker after the Wednesday meeting.

What his agency has to do is whittle down a dream list of about $10 billion in “potential” projects that voters saw before voting themselves a tax. That list included new infill stations on existing lines, new heavy rail construction, and a much bigger web of light rail.

“We’ve whittled it down based on the public input that we’ve heard … we’re continuing to confirm that we’ve got the project list right,” Parker said.

Besides public input, MARTA’s using nine principles set with Atlanta City Council to decide on how to spend the money. The list includes things like easing travel for workers and joining to other regions.

The transit agency’s board is expected to vote on a project list this fall.


Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.


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  1. J Jordan July 12, 2018 10:57 am

    The taxpayer gets the shaft once again!Why are these agencies ignoring the will of the communities they serve? It is so frustrating as a community member to be told how our tax dollars will be spent prior to voting and then to learn that all that we were promised is suddenly not part of the plan! I encourage all of us to contact our city council representatives and the mayor’s office!Report

  2. Chris Johnston July 12, 2018 3:08 pm

    These agencies are intermediaries between developers and politicians/bureaucrats. They help the developers grease the skids through government. They also help needy politicians and bureaucrats obtain incentives for their support. It’s a quid pro quo.Report

  3. Carrie Salvary July 18, 2018 11:37 am

    Neither the Clifton Corridor or Transit along the Beltline would be my choices for funding. The Beltline is the most gentrifying project ever to come along in the City of Atlanta. The majority of the Beltline supporters wish for the City of Atlanta to be transformed in a manner that transfers the African American population out of the City. An inordinate amount of public funds have been invested in the Beltline to date, with a very small percentage of housing produced for working class Atlantans. All while the Beltline executives are scratching their heads and hoisting the responsibility of living up to their mandate to provide 5600 units of housing for working class Atlantans on to other agencies. The Beltline has no value to me and is not deserving of my hard earned dollars to pay for the bonds financing it’s development.

    The Clifton Corridor is sucking up dollars that should otherwise be dedicated to the people of South Dekalb County as the citizens in South Dekalb has been strong supporters and advocates to MARTA for decades, however, they have not been rewarded with expansions of transit in that area. Transit along the Clifton Corridor is another gentrifying project disguised as an effort to provide transit for workers in the Emory University area.

    It is high time in the City of Atlanta for our leaders, both at City Hall and MARTA to stop using the hard earned dollars of the working class to facilitate the comfort and convenience of the rich and powerful in the City of Atlanta. It’s really disgraceful and disgusting to continue to observe the looting of the working class in this City.Report

  4. Jennifer Wilson July 20, 2018 1:49 pm

    Carrie, what projects do you recommend for S. DeKalb? I live in Atlanta-in-DeKalb so I recognize an area can be both, but there’s such a small amount of overlap that I don’t see what they could propose that would work. The funds have to be spent in city of Atlanta jurisdiction, not “metro Atlanta.Report


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