MARTA CEO signals support for Atlanta’s Clifton Corridor

The MARTA Board is close to finalizing a plan to spend $2.5 billion to expand transit in Atlanta.

The MARTA Board is close to finalizing a plan to spend $2.5 billion to expand transit in Atlanta.

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker Wednesday signaled the Clifton Corridor light rail line is a top priority as the agency finalizes the details of an expansion in Atlanta.

But Parker said the current debate over how to spend the proceeds from a voter-approved Atlanta sales tax can't be the end of the discussion. He said MARTA and Atlanta must find other revenue to pay for a slew of projects that won't be funded by the half-penny sales tax.

“For the long-term success of the city and the region, this $2.5 billion cannot be a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Parker told business and political leaders at the Atlanta Press Club. “It has to be the start, not the end of what we’re trying to do.”

Parker’s comments come as the MARTA Board of Directors is preparing to approve a final list of projects for an Atlanta expansion.

In May the agency unveiled a proposed list of projects that included 21 miles of light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, other new bus routes, two new transit centers, and renovation of existing stations. You can find more detail on the proposed plan here.

Though $2.5 billion sounds like a lot of money, the agency whittled down its proposal from a list of $11.5 billion worth of projects. And some people aren't happy – especially supporters of the Atlanta Beltline. The proposed list includes only a third of the proposed 22-mile Beltline light rail loop.

At $503.6 million, the Clifton Corridor line is the most expensive project on the proposed list. The four-mile line would connect Lindbergh Station to a new station in the Emory/CDC area.

Beltine supporters and some other Atlanta residents have said the Clifton Corridor should not get the lion’s share of the proceeds from the half-penny sales tax. They note the Emory areas was not in the city when voters approved the sales tax, but was annexed later. The project was included in the list of potential projects approved by the City Council before the 2016 vote.

On Wednesday, Parker said the Emory/CDC area is the region’s second-largest job center, but it’s cut off from highways and rail transit. He said the line also represents MARTA’s strongest chance to get federal funding that is crucial to any rail project.

“In a world where we need significantly more money to keep building, our every dollar needs to be spent in a way to attract more and more (outside) dollars,” Parker said.

The MARTA board is expected to finalize the list of projects in October. Parker said the final list won’t begin to meet all of Atlanta’s transit needs. But he hopes to “reframe the conversation” by acknowledging the half-penny sales tax can’t be the agency’s only chance to expand in Atlanta in coming decades.

“While ($2.5 billion is) a lot of money, it’s not enough to do all the things we need to do to have a world-class system,” he said.