The More MARTA Atlanta program is arguably the biggest boost the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority has received since the agency was approved by DeKalb and Fulton county voters in 1971.
Over the next 40 years, the spending plan will inject $2.7 billion – with a “B” – into the transit agency for a range of new light rail and bus projects, as well as improvements to existing stations, that is designed to reduce travel times, reach underserved areas, and bring the Atlanta BeltLine, Emory University and the Atlanta University Center into the transit network.
If all that sounds like a lot of money, that’s because it is. But More MARTA doesn’t necessarily mean “Enough MARTA,” explained MARTA Board Chairman Robert Ashe, who said the agency received a wish list that far exceeded the anticipated funding. The board had to make several difficult choices about which projects to add to the final program roster.
“What the process showed us is that there’s a hunger for more public transit across Atlanta and we intend to look for further opportunities to expand and improve the system,” he said.
Here are seven notable nuggets about More MARTA Atlanta:
Expansion Limited to City of Atlanta – for Now
As the name suggests, all the projects are within the city of Atlanta, made possible by a half-penny sales tax approved by voters in 2016.
But others aren’t standing still. DeKalb County officials are considering a separate tax referendum to fund improvements in the rest of that county (a DeKalb contingent recently flew to Minneapolis to check out that region’s transit), and Gwinnett County has already scheduled a vote next year to finally invite MARTA into its borders.
Bringing Transit to the BeltLine
The bikers and skaters and joggers and baby strollers that pack the Atlanta BeltLine may soon have to learn to share their beloved space with transit vehicles.The biggest single chunk of the More MARTA funding – $570 million – is going to equip the BeltLine with the light rail that was central of its original vision for creating a new transit corridor around the city’s core.
Of that sum, $174 million will go to the northeastern section linking Ponce City Market to MARTA’s Lindbergh Station and $196 million to a southwestern stretch between I-20 and Oakland City Station. Another $200 million will be used to leverage additional investment throughout the rest of the Beltline circuit.
Fulfills Desire to Expand Streetcar
A hefty $553 million has been earmarked to extend downtown’s Atlanta Streetcar footprint by five miles on either side to connect with the BeltLine’s Westside and Eastside trails.
This extension also will link Atlanta University Center and the bustling Krog Street area. An expansion of the streetcar line has always been seen as necessary to vault it from its current function as tourist shuttle to a vital commuter option.
Clifton Corridor Climbs on Board
The busy Clifton Corridor, home to Emory University’s campus and hospital, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, is the region’s largest job center not connected to MARTA’s rail network.
More MARTA Atlanta allocates $350 million to run light rail from Lindbergh Center Station to the Clifton Corridor area, though the public funding is contingent on local sources raising another $100 million privately.
Interestingly, maps from the early 1960s detailing proposed MARTA rail lines show a connection between Lindbergh and Emory, but that rail spur was never built. The Emory area became eligible for More MARTA Atlanta funding when it was annexed by the city of Atlanta at the beginning of this year.
Big Service Improvements in Store for South Atlanta
South Atlanta received a sizable chunk of the More MARTA funds, including $311 million for a light rail line along Campbellton Road, linking Oakland City Station to Greenbriar Mall. Another nearly $300 million will build various bus rapid transit projects, including one from the Summerhill neighborhood to downtown Atlanta.
Improving the Existing Network
Finally, $200 million has been set aside for rail station improvements and $237 million to upgrade the bus system. Both of these investment areas touch tens of thousands of people every day. In fact, many bus service improvements have already been implemented and are being used daily.
Still, Funding Hurdles Remain
The More MARTA local sales tax is anticipated to provide about $2.7 billion in local dollars over the 40-year life of the tax. MARTA and the city of Atlanta are using these local dollars to leverage additional federal funding for some of the more expensive – and more competitive – projects.
Federal funding for transit projects like the BeltLine, Clifton Corridor, and Campbellton Road have the opportunity to successfully compete for federal funds from the Federal Transit Administration, creating the potential to bring some of our federal tax dollars back to Atlanta. If successful, MARTA will be able to use these federal dollars to grow the amount of money available for these projects.
What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.