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Some Atlanta new rapid bus projects expected by 2025; new light rail will take a while

MARTA Downtown. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Metro Atlanta relies on a sales tax to help pay for transit services provided by MARTA, the region's largest transit operator. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

By Maggie Lee

MARTA has come up with a draft calendar of when it’ll spend some new tax money on a list of major light rail construction, rapid bus routes, station works and other improvements.

As early as 2025, MARTA is planning to have high-capacity bus service running along Metropolitan Parkway, Cleveland Avenue, Peachtree Road, Capitol Avenue and North Avenue. The first three are “arterial rapid transit,” where buses come frequently and may get priority at traffic lights.  The last two are “bus rapid transit,” where generally buses get priority and travel in their own lane, not slowed down by cars.

MARTA's draft building timeline. Click for a larger version.

MARTA’s draft building timeline. Click for a larger version. The dashed lines illustrate planning for each project. The lines turn solid for procurement and construction.

As for light rail, first in line is an expansion from Downtown’s streetcar to Emory in the northeast and Greenbriar in the southwest. Those are lined up for starting in 2020, followed by work on northeast, southeast and west parts of the BeltLine light rail.

“We’ve done substantial planning on the streetcar east, we wanted to take advantage of that and move the project forward,” MARTA Chief of Capital Programs, Expansion and Innovation Frank Rucker, speaking to a board committee on Thursday morning.

“But the second priority is to move the Campbellton Road LRT at pretty much the same pace,” Rucker said.

The ARTs on Metropolitan, Cleveland and Peachtree, he said are “low-hanging fruit” that should be up and running by 2025.

MARTA staff looked at things like cash flow, project readiness, geographic balance and equity and connectivity when they came up with the schedule.

They also thought about  how to get Five Points Station ready if Atlanta hosts the semi-final matches of the 2026 World Cup, doing the Greenbriar Transit Center at about the same time as the light rail line that will link to it and coordinating with the city on its North Avenue “Smart Corridor” works (where sensors and other technology will do things like help monitor traffic and time lights.)

The money for the MARTA projects is coming from a half-penny sales tax that Atlanta voters approved in 2016 for spending just in Atlanta. The tax will last for 40 years. It was projected to raise something nearing $3 billion over those 40 years, but that’s wasn’t taking inflation into account. MARTA is putting the value of the tax, with inflation, at more like $5.9 billion.

“As much money as this is, it still doesn’t fill the need, let alone the desire for transit in the city of Atlanta,” said MARTA Board Treasurer Robbie Ashe, an Atlanta appointee to the board.

A MARTA map of a new version of the "More MARTA" expansion plan. (Click for a larger version.)

A MARTA map of a new version of the “More MARTA” expansion plan. (Click for a larger version.)

“There are still places where if we were able to get other revenue streams we would be able to accelerate these projects,” he said.

For example, along the BeltLine. If the state kicked in some money for transit along the multiuse trail, it could get trains running sooner.

The timeline is a draft and subject to change. Plenty of things can take up time or delay any major project that anybody builds. In this case, MARTA does need a bit more capital for some of the larger projects, so there will be a search for that. It may come in the form of some sort of private funding or financing, but nothing is settled yet.

Federal funds and bond sales are part of the model, and those can change based on politics and market conditions.

MARTA also has to acquire rights-of-way in some places, and also do federally required studies that look at how their construction might affect an area’s ecology, jobs, traffic and more.

The full MARTA board is expected to vote on the timeline in June. On Thursday, the Planning and External Relations Committee approved it unanimously.


Slides from MARTA board committee presentation, May 30, 2019





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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