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Public seeks more bus-versus-rail info for MARTA’s Clifton Corridor options

MARTA presents the three final Clifton Corridor transit alternatives at a Nov. 15 public meeting at North Decatur United Methodist Church. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

By John Ruch and Maria Saporta

Reactions to MARTA’s latest Clifton Corridor options from more than 100 attendees of two public meetings this week centered on local impacts and bus-versus-rail comparisons that aren’t yet available.

More details on the three alternatives – two bus routes and a light-rail option – will be available in January or February, MARTA officials say. They also pledged to seek public comment directly on preferences for bus or rail modes, following complaints from some attendees that a previous survey asked only about bus rapid transit (BRT).

That previous input process this summer, which MARTA used to narrow alternatives down from 10, also had a “glitch” that caused about 8 percent of written comments to be lost, according to project manager Bryan Hobbs. He urged anyone who sent comments and did not receive a MARTA confirmation email to resend them via the project website.

The three remaining Clifton Corridor alternatives all use a similar route between Avondale and Lindbergh Center MARTA Stations, using CSX railroad right of way and local streets, with specific station connection paths to be determined. One of the BRT options also includes a spur bus route to Decatur Station.

Public concerns about possible property takings and traffic impacts played a big role in MARTA eliminating several alternatives that would have made Decatur Station the main eastern terminus. Those issues remained a theme of public questions in the two meetings, one held on Nov. 15 at North Decatur United Methodist Church and one via Zoom on Nov. 17. MARTA officials said it’s too early to know specifics before the alternatives are studied further.

A similar answer was given for questions about CSX truly agreeing to a right-of-way deal. Hobbs said no deal has been signed at this early point but that the relationship is good.

Comments at the in-person meeting appeared to lean pro-rail, while no consensus could be gleaned from the virtual audience. However, another theme of questions was a desire for more details on comparing the BRT and rail alternatives. MARTA officials once again said updated or more refined information on such issues as cost and ridership is still in the works.

On cost factors, officials said MARTA would consider substantial contributions from private organizations as well as public funds. The route includes such major institutions as Emory University, a Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospital and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The project might be built in phases, officials said.

Some attendees asked if light rail has advantages in connecting to the existing or planned rail service at the terminus stations or in attracting more people away from their private vehicles. MARTA has said the Clifton Corridor project could affect the mode and path for Atlanta BeltLine transit to link to Lindbergh Center. Hobbs said MARTA has not studied the rider-attraction angle and that it’s a “tough one” as an issue nationally, with the efficiency of transit as the main concern. Jereme Sharpe of the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board’s transportation committee was among those suggesting that any BRT option have an “inspiring” design to attract riders.

The backdrop of bus-versus-rail discussions is MARTA’s increasingly opting for the former over the latter on several projects, citing cost and technical issues. That fueled concern with the survey this summer, which asked if people were open to BRT on the Clifton Corridor but did not ask directly about light rail. Questioned at the Nov. 17 meeting, Hobbs said the question was not “rigged” but did not explain the lack of a light-rail query. “So, we did not ask a direct question in that manner in which you’re mentioning and so that is something that we’ll look to do,” he told one attendee, adding that people can submit such comments now on the project website.

The possibility and quality of transit-oriented development along the line was another topic of interest. Hobbs said MARTA is in discussion with local governments about that, in part through a technical advisory committee for the project. That committee includes representatives from the Cities of Atlanta and Decatur, the Georgia Departments of Transportation, the CDC, Emory, CSX, and DeKalb County government, including District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry. Hobbs said MARTA wants to keep the group from getting too large for workability reasons but is open to hearing from other groups that want to be considered for representation. “This list is a work in progress and we expect it will grow/evolve as the project advances,” said MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher.

For more information or to provide input, see the project website.

 

Update: This story has been updated with more information about membership of the project’s technical advisory committee.

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1 Comment

  1. Nicolas Uppal November 20, 2022 2:49 pm

    I believe that this decision will indicate to Atlanta the answer to this question; does MARTA foresee future population growth in Atlanta? Future popularity of public transit because of rising fuel prices? Future popularity of public transportation due to rising battery prices which willpush up the cost of electric vehicles?

    or

    Does MARTA forsee greater societal assimilation of public transit and increased usage? BRT would be excellent.Right Now.

    However, if MARTA is anticipating larger traffic flows along one of the transformative projects of the city, it becomes a question of do we build light rail now? or do we wait 15 years only to realize that because of the linkages opened up by the connections of this transit project, trafficc between the two city centers has increased calling for rail, a more permanent solution.

    Rail will be cheaper in the long run.

    Decision made; rail it is!Report

    Reply

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