Light rail a key part of Atlanta-area transit wish list

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If a referendum passes, MARTA could be adding a significant light-rail component to its existing heavy-rail system.
MARTA photo
Atlanta’s transit agency has unveiled a wish list that envisions dramatically expanded rail service, nearly all of it light rail.

That’s assuming city voters approve a pending $2.5 billion referendum for a 40-year, half-cent sales tax for transportation. Residents already pay a one-penny sales tax for transit and a $2.50 fare, among the highest in the nation.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) this week also announced a $453.3 million budget for next year – and no fare hike.

“It’s going to have a much larger light-rail component, and it’s going to have a good amount of activity along the Atlanta Beltline corridor,” Mayor Kasim Reed said of MARTA’s plan, the Sales Tax Referendum Draft Project List, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

MARTA was formed in 1972 to take over bus lines in Fulton and DeKalb Counties; it built most of its 48 route-miles of third-rail, electrified rapid transit lines in the 1980s. It has grown little since then, even as the region’s population exploded.

As reported previously on Trains NewsWire, the transit agency hopes to bring light rail to the Beltline, 22 miles of linear parks on abandoned rail beds that circle the city core and connect 45 neighborhoods. The Beltline is being built as a multi-use pedestrian and bicycle path, with part of the right-of-way reserved for future transit.

Added to the wish list were two east-west, crosstown light-rail lines on the Fulton County side of Atlanta. They would connect the Midtown and Downtown business districts with the Beltline, Georgia Tech, cultural attractions of Centennnial Olympic Park, and in-city neighborhoods popular with millennials.
MARTA's wish list would add extensive additions to its system map.
Additionally, a “Clifton Corridor” light-rail line would run east into DeKalb County to Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s a surprise. The Clifton Corridor project was thought to have been put on hold when state legislation for the referendum was trimmed from an $8 billion vote for all of Fulton and DeKalb to a $2.5 billion vote in Atlanta only.

Funded projects are to be confined to the city; the Clifton Corridor extends beyond city limits. However, a footnote to the project list says, “Contingent upon funding agreement with DeKalb County for capital and operations and maintenance.” There may be a way around the referendum restrictions, if the DeKalb County board goes along.

Back in Atlanta proper, the project list details a 2-mile extension of an existing heavy-rail line from its present western terminus to Interstate 285; four new “infill” stations on existing heavy rail lines – three at locations crossing the Beltline – and two crosstown bus rapid transit routes running north-south and east-west, respectively.

Finally, the list calls for new rail cars, improved stations and power systems, more frequent service on five bus lines, increased bus service during off-peak hours, and bus circulators in six neighborhoods. (An alternate list has light rail on only half the Beltline, and a new light-rail line running to the southwest corner of the city.)

All this is unrelated to the Atlanta Streetcar, a 2.7-mile downtown circulator that was built and is operated by the city, not MARTA. But the transit agency’s project map shows a light-rail connector between the streetcar and the Beltline.

Legislation allowing the referendum was passed by the Georgia legislature in March and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in April. While a referendum had been expected Nov. 8, transit officials now indicate it may be pushed back to November 2017.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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