MARTA CEO gives Atlanta Beltline supporters some hope

MARTA plans to finalize a transit expansion plan for Atlanta this fall.

MARTA plans to finalize a transit expansion plan for Atlanta this fall.

The Atlanta Beltline may yet get more funding from a transit sales tax approved by city voters in 2016.

A new plan to spend $2.5 billion in proceeds from the sales tax includes just a third of the 22-mile light-rail line envisioned for the beltline loop. But on Sunday afternoon, MARTA officials assured beltline supporters that final decisions on how to spend the money won't be made until after a series of public hearings this summer.

“We hope to get a lot of feedback and ultimately take a recommendation to the Board of Directors in September or October,” MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker told about 60 beltline supporters who gathered at Ormsby’s tavern on Howell Mill Road in Atlanta.

Atlanta voters overwhelmingly approved the half-penny sales tax to expand MARTA in the city. Though MARTA showcased a list of potential projects before the 2016 vote, it’s only now whittling the list down to something financially viable.

MARTA and city employees have recommended 21 miles of new light rail lines, 18 miles of bus rapid transit and other transit improvements (you can find more details here). But the project includes only 7 miles of the beltline loop.

Beltline supporters want more – ideally all – of the transit line included in the final list. The group Beltline Rail Now! sponsored Sunday's forum, which drew Parker, MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe and representatives of the city, the beltline and the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Parker offered no guarantees. But he said the recommended project list is “clearly changeable.”

Getting the Beltline on that final project list isn’t the only hurdle supporters must overcome. They learned Sunday only part of the loop is included in the ARC’s long-range transportation plan. To receive crucial federal funding, the loop must be included in the ARC’s plan.

After the meeting, former City Council President Cathy Woolard, who founded the Beltline transit group, made it clear the group will fight for more funding.

“What I’ve understood from my years of experience is that things can change if citizens speak out,” Woolard said.