Dickens supports Atlanta Streetcar extension, unsure about Clifton Corridor

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Mayor says MARTA should ‘be honest’ about its expansion plans

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens says extending the Atlanta Streetcar east and west from its current route is one of his priorities as the city negotiates with MARTA about a revised transit expansion project list.

Dickens also cited the Campbellton Road and Summerhill bus rapid transit lines as priorities in a meeting Wednesday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board. But he was less definitive in his support of a proposed Clifton Corridor transit line connecting Lindbergh station to the Emory University area — one of the major lines MARTA pledged to deliver after Atlanta voters approved a half-penny sales tax for transit expansion in 2016.

The mayor’s comments come as MARTA’s Atlanta expansion plan faces a major revenue shortfall that a former agency official recently said exceeds $1 billion. Dickens cited that figure Wednesday as he said MARTA must be honest with the public about what it can and can’t deliver in light of financial realities.

“I am going to be very clear to MARTA that we shouldn’t spend time on things that won’t see the end zone,” Dickens told the AJC. “We’re not just happy paying consultants who think about and plan and design (projects). We need things built that people will utilize.”

The 2016 referendum was supposed to generate $2.5 billion over 40 years for transit expansion in Atlanta. With that figure in mind, MARTA later approved a list of 17 projects that included 29 miles of light rail, 13 miles of bus rapid transit and other improvements.

But MARTA has already backed away from plans for rail on Campbellton Road and has signaled it may do the same in the Clifton Corridor. The agency has cited the high cost of rail as a major factor.

More recently, inflation and unexpected costs have undermined MARTA’s ability to deliver on its plans. And last spring it acknowledged it has spent more than half the sales tax proceeds on enhanced bus service and other operations — further limiting funds available to build new transit lines.

MARTA and Atlanta have been negotiating a revised project list that would prioritize about seven projects. The agency has stressed that no projects have been cut from the list — some will move forward in the near term while others will advance “as MARTA’s financial model is refined further and funding gaps are closed.”

On Wednesday, Dickens struck a different tone.

“If you don’t have the money, then you’ve got to come back to the public again to get it,” he said.

Dickens said if MARTA can’t demonstrate that it can complete a given project, “then we should shut it off.”

“Be honest about it. Tell the public where we are,” Dickens said. He added that money from some projects should be redirected “to those things that are shovel-ready, shovel-worthy and will be completed.”

MARTA CEO Collie Greenwood has said his priorities include the Campbellton Road and Summerhill rapid bus lines, the Bankhead station renovation and the Cleveland/Metropolitan arterial rapid transit line. On Wednesday, Dickens cited the Campbellton and Summerhill lines as his priorities, along with extending the streetcar east to Ponce City Market and west to the Beltline.

His support of the streetcar is noteworthy in light of recent skepticism about the project from some MARTA board members and opposition from some nearby residents.

Dickens sounded less certain about the Clifton Corridor. He said there are some projects that he’ll need to see MARTA can actually finish.

“Whether that’s Clifton Corridor, whether that’s some other projects that were talked about, when you don’t have a billion dollars, how do you do them?” Dickens said.

“I’m not skeptical (of the Clifton Corridor),” Dickens said. “We’re going to have a conversation about how do you get it done.”

Dickens expects to meet with MARTA officials to discuss the project list this week and hopes to have a final list of priorities later this month.