Here’s an intriguing blank slate, sky’s-the-limit question: what should metro Atlanta’s transit network look like in the future? The kicker: You don’t have to factor in cost.

Every few years, transportation planners and local officials come together to provide an answer, creating a detailed project list that serves as a long-range vision for transit in the Atlanta region.

The latest iteration is hot off the presses, having recently been OK’d by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Before we get into the details, remember that this is a vision, not a plan. Given funding challenges, many projects are decades away from being built, and some may never get off the drawing board.

OK, with that caveat out of the way, here’s the lowdown on “Concept 3,” as it’s known in bureaucratic circles (more on the name later).

Let’s cut to the chase: What projects are included?

In all, 50 potential transit projects from across the region are in the latest Concept 3 vision. The list includes everything from heavy rail (like a MARTA train) to bus rapid transit lines that offer improved, rail-like service on buses.

Here’s a look at some of the projects that made the cut:

  • City of Atlanta: Atlanta Streetcar expansion on the entire Atlanta BeltLine loop, as well as several crosstown routes
  • Clayton County: Commuter rail to Lovejoy; bus rapid transit on U.S 41
  • Cobb County: A bus rapid transit line to connect Kennesaw State University and the Arts Center MARTA station
  • DeKalb County: Light rail on Clifton Corridor between Lindbergh and Avondale MARTA stations
  • Gwinnett County: Heavy rail between Doraville MARTA station and Jimmy Carter Boulevard
  • North Fulton County: Bus-rapid transit line on Piedmont/Roswell roads
  • South Fulton County: Bus rapid transit on Roosevelt Highway and South Fulton Industrial.
  • Regional: Light rail line on the top end of I-285, from Vinings in Cobb to Doraville in DeKalb.

Yes, there’s a Project Map. And it’s Pretty Cool

Image: Map of Concept 3 Atlanta Regional Transit Vision Update
Click to explore the interactive map

The planners at ARC put together an interactive map that makes it easy to explore Concept 3 projects and see how they might fit into the region’s existing transit network.

Just click on one of the colored lines to call up information about that project, including transportation mode, length, and a summary.

How Did the Projects Get on the List?

It was a collaborative process. ARC’s transit planners met with local governments and transportation agencies and worked to include their top priority projects.

Each project was also evaluated on a range of factors, including reliability (expected on-time performance), efficiency (jobs and population within a half mile of stops or stations) and social equity (how well a project serves low-income and minority populations).

And given real-world funding limitations, some projects may come to life as a lower-cost option. For example, a hoped-for but expensive heavy rail line along a major roadway may first be built as a bus rapid transit line until additional funding is obtained.

Why Does a Regional Transit Vision Matter?

The answer, regional planners say, is simple: Concept 3 will influence and inform regional transit planning efforts going forward.

This includes a regional transit plan to be developed later this year by the newly formed Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority, or the ATL.

OK, What’s the Deal with the ‘Concept 3’ Name?

During the development of the first regional transit vision in 2008, two initial concepts were drafted that merged into a final version: hence, Concept 3. The name stuck, and is even enshrined in the law that created the ATL.

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.