By Maggie Lee
After weeks of wrangling and lobbying among the supporters of different projects, a revised MARTA expansion proposal now includes more light rail than originally envisioned. It leans on other sources of money besides a sales tax to complete those big-dollar projects.
The new spending plan would still put a zigzag of light rail through the city from Greenbriar, along parts of the BeltLine, to the Emory/Centers for Disease Control area.
The new plan now also adds more rail along the BeltLine in southeast Atlanta and on the west side. It also makes some of the funding for the so-called “Clifton Corridor” line up to Emory contingent on its supporters finding more money.
The point is to appease both those who say a line to Clifton is an important way to link Atlantans to jobs; and those who say that the BeltLine fails to knit the city together equitably if it lacks transit.
But here’s the deal: a Clifton line and a full 22-mile BeltLine loop would be really expensive. And the city’s transit wish list started at more than $11 billion, which includes a lot more than light rail. And Atlanta only has a 40-year, half-penny sales tax worth $2.5 billion to start tackling that list.
So MARTA’s now proposing money to do some work on both Clifton and the BeltLine loop and a hunt for the rest of the money it’ll take to complete them.
MARTA proposes working with the BeltLine to look at public-private partnerships to fund that full loop. According to a letter MARTA sent to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Thursday, MARTA and the BeltLine would work together “with the goal of having an actionable plan to leverage BeltLine and MARTA development assets to access private funding and financing. This approach will prioritize joint development of transit and affordable housing along the corridor.”
As for Clifton, MARTA says it’s already working with stakeholders like Emory Healthcare and Emory University to figure out how to get the line built. According to that same letter, they’re working on “a strategy for the Clifton line that will accelerate development and best leverage additional sources of funding to meet the Federal Transit Administration’s requirements for the local funding match. ”
Now, in plain English, it’s a bit too early to know where and how extra money for either project will be raised.
Federal funds will almost certainly be a part of the Clifton build. DeKalb County is currently reviewing its overall transit plan; Clifton may play into that in some way. And of course there are private parties up around Clifton.
“We envision this as a public-private partnership,” said Betty Willis, who’s president of the Clifton Corridor Transportation Management Association and Emory University’s senior associate vice president for government and community affairs.
As for detailed plans about where to get money, she said it’s early days and some conversations are in preliminary stages and some haven’t started.
But overall, she said the proposed deal is very encouraging.
One of the BeltLine loop’s most high-profile supporters, former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard, said that after seeing MARTA’s proposal she’s cautiously optimistic about the future of BeltLine rail. She said she thinks some efficiencies will be found in the More MARTA plan that will help pay for other parts of it.
There’s a lot “up in the air” about funding the full loop, Woolard said, but in the MARTA letter she sees a heartening commitment to it that will allow the BeltLine, the city and MARTA to start putting the funding pieces together.
The next official step is a vote by the MARTA board scheduled for Oct. 4.
It’s already getting some good reviews by Atlanta City Council members on Twitter:
Happy to see a thoughtful revision to the More MARTA project list: more Beltline Rail, less $ for Clifton Corridor, and good investment in District 2 (esp NE Beltline Trail LRT and North Ave BRT). Now…let’s figure out the priority of all these projects. @MARTASERVICE https://t.co/6Fhtz5oPhY
— Amir Farokhi (@amirrf) September 27, 2018
Glad to see the revised More @MARTASERVICE list w/ added 8 miles of @AtlantaBeltLine LRT, inc. extending it in the SW/NW corridors to the Bankhead MARTA Sta. This was much needed, given the development of Westside Park @ Bellwood Quarry, the Proctor Creek Trail, and @QuarryYards. pic.twitter.com/pUuBPMqlJb
— Dustin Hillis (@Dustin4Atlanta) September 27, 2018