MARTA picks firm to design Atlanta streetcar extension

A MARTA board committee has approved plans to award an $11.5 million contract to design a streetcar extension to the Atlanta Beltline. (AJC file photo)

Credit: File photo

Credit: File photo

A MARTA board committee has approved plans to award an $11.5 million contract to design a streetcar extension to the Atlanta Beltline. (AJC file photo)

A MARTA board committee Thursday approved a $11.5 million contract for the final design of an Atlanta Streetcar extension.

MARTA plans to extend the transit line east to the Atlanta Beltline and Ponce City Market. The board’s planning committee agreed to award the design contract to HDR Inc. If the full board approves the contract next month, the final design work could begin this summer.

It’s the latest milestone for a project that has plenty of supporters and critics.

The existing streetcar route runs 2.7 miles between Centennial Olympic Park and the King Historic District. Atlanta launched the service in 2014. But it has been plagued by problems.

Though the service was initially popular, passengers disappeared once the city began charging for rides. Safety concerns briefly led state regulators to threaten to shut it down. MARTA took over the service in 2018, but some problems have persisted.

The streetcar operates on city roads, so it’s often stuck in traffic. Last fall, MARTA took the trains out of service to replace their wheels. Some of the trains are already back in service, and all of them should be back in early July.

Despite its problems, MARTA sees a future for the streetcar. Agency officials say extending it to more destinations will generate more passengers.

The proposed 2-mile extension would run along Edgewood Avenue, Randolph Street, Auburn Avenue and Irwin Street to the Beltline. It would then turn north to Ponce City Market.

A look at MARTA's proposed extension of the Atlanta streetcar to Ponce City Market.

Credit: Courtesy of MARTA

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Credit: Courtesy of MARTA

Many transit supporters have embraced the first stretch of long-sought rail on the Beltline. But they want it to be built to a high standard. Opponents worry the extension will disrupt local neighborhoods and detract from the existing trail.

The design details could go a long way toward addressing such concerns. Abhay Joshi, director of expansion program management, told the board that public input will play a key role in the design process.

“We know the sensitive nature of this project,” he said.

MARTA says HDR has worked on streetcar projects in more than 30 North American cities. The design contract is for four years, with a one-year renewal option.

Under a recently revised schedule, MARTA expects the $230 million extension to begin service in 2028.

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