By David Pendered
MARTA’s board of directors took the first formal step Monday toward applying for federal funding for two new rail lines and enhanced bus service along I-20 from downtown Atlanta into central DeKalb County.
The board designated the three routes as “locally preferred alternatives.” The designation allows MARTA to submit funding requests to the Federal Transit Administration.
The realpolitiks of MARTA’s action are unclear. For starters, Congress hasn’t been able to agree on transportation funding since 2009, when it last passed a transportation bill. In addition, DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May said the action doesn’t satisfy concerns of constituents who want rail service extended into south DeKalb – and have vowed to vote “No” on the transportation sales tax referendum on July 31 because it provides only enhanced bus service in their region.
The construction cost alone is projected at $3.5 billion. The proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation, which is on the July 31 ballot in the 10-county metro Atlanta area, would pay for just under $1 billion of the cost.
MARTA CEO Beverly Scott said after the meeting that the board’s action is “a major milestone.” Scott also observed that the board’s vote is just the start on what could be a 10-year journey before the first inch of new rail service begins.
“With that LPA (locally preferred alternative), you now have the right of entry to begin the federal process,” Scott said. “It is a gestation on the federal project. But if you never get into the queue by having the LPA, you never can get to the finish line.”
The routes the board approved are:
- Construction of an 8.8-mile light rail system from Lindbergh Station to Avondale Station. The first phase, 3.7 miles, is included in the project list of the proposed sales tax for transportation in the amount of $700 million. That leg would stretch from Lindbergh to near the Emory University campus.
- Construction of a heavy rail system, which MARTA now uses, in eastern DeKalb County. The 12-mile extension would begin at the Indian Creek Station, go south to I-20, and turn east to a terminus near Mall at Stone Crest, near Lithonia. This project is not included in the project list of the transportation sales tax.
- Enhanced bus service, called “bus rapid transit.” Buses would run a loop on existing lanes of I-20 between downtown Atlanta and Wesley Chapel Road. The project would include an analysis of the viability of building a light rail system along the route at some time in the future. This project is to receive $225 million if the transportation sales tax is approved.