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David Pendered

MARTA now can seek federal funds for two proposed rail lines, one bus route that are to cost $3.5 billion

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.


David Pendered

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.



  1. SteveBrown May 7, 2012 9:55 pm

    Again, the question arises, the same unanswered question from the TIA (TSPLOST) referendum, who is going to pay the future operating and maintenance costs (not to mention implementation costs on some of them) for these projects?  The cannot pay the bill for the current operations and maintenance, regardless of the 50-50 state funding mandate.
    As with the TIA, this should be the first question asked before applying for federal funds.Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia May 7, 2012 11:16 pm

       MARTA can’t pay the bill for current operations and maintenance because, for one, their fares are entirely too low for all that they are expected to do with limited existing tax revenues.
      MARTA should have implemented a zone-pricing system long ago, likely from its inception if possible, a zone-pricing system in which the current one-way fare of $2.50 should be at the very low or even deep discount for special groups (children, students, disabled, elderly, etc) end of the fare-pricing spectrum with $10-$12 being at the high-end of the fare-pricing spectrum for premium service (like late-night and overnight service, service to major stops and the busiest stops in the system, etc) and longer-distance rides.
      Second, instead of hoping for continued and unending sales tax increases to be passed by a conservative tax-averse state legislature, there are other potential revenue streams that MARTA could tap into such as Tax Increment Financing (where the property tax revenues from new development around transit stations helps to pay the cost of the transit service) and public-private partnerships like the state was going to pursue to construct, operate and maintain the proposed I-75/I-575 Northwest Corridor HOT Lanes in Cobb, Cherokee and Bartow Counties.Report


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