MARTA is pressing ahead with plans for a new transit line that could transform commuting to one of metro Atlanta’s busiest job centers.
The Clifton Corridor line would connect MARTA’s Lindbergh station to the Emory University/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention area in Atlanta. Many details — including whether the line runs to downtown Decatur or to MARTA’s Avondale station and whether it would be light rail or bus rapid transit — must still be determined.
But the line could eventually make it easier for thousands of people to travel to jobs that are now difficult to reach by road or transit.
“We don’t have access to the interstate system or MARTA rail,” Emory Senior Associate Vice President Betty Willis said. “It could open up the entire area to thousands of jobs.”
The Clifton Corridor is home to more than 30,000 employees and 15,500 students. More than 2 million patients visit medical facilities in the area each year. But the roads are often congested, and MARTA buses get stuck in traffic like other vehicles.
In 2012 MARTA approved plans to build a light-rail line from Lindbergh to improve access to the Emory/CDC area. But hurdles made the project challenging.
CSX was reluctant to allow MARTA to build the transit line along the railroad’s existing lines. That led MARTA to propose building the line along and beneath Clifton Road. Tunneling beneath the road would have been “highly disruptive” to businesses and residents in the area, Willis said.
Money was also a hurdle, even after Atlanta voters approved a half-penny sales tax for transit expansion in 2016. MARTA eventually included the 4-mile Clifton Corridor in its plans to build 29 miles of light rail with the sales tax proceeds.
But as MARTA tried to spread funding around various rail projects, it included only $350 million for the Clifton Corridor in its plan — not nearly enough to build the rail line. And $100 million of the proposed funding was contingent on MARTA finding financial support from other local sources.
Two recent developments have kick-started the project. First, CSX has expressed a new willingness to consider allowing MARTA to build a transit line in its right of way. That means it could take less time and money to build the line.
Second, MARTA and key stakeholders have expressed interest in bus rapid transit in the corridor, rather than rail. That also could save time and money.
Now MARTA wants public input on two major decisions. The first is whether the line should feature rapid buses or light rail.
Credit: Courtesy of MARTA
Credit: Courtesy of MARTA
The agency plans to open its first bus rapid transit line — along Capitol Avenue and Hank Aaron Drive in Atlanta — in 2025. Its second, along Campbellton Road, would open in 2028.
MARTA says those lines will operate like rail lines on tires. They will have transit stations, limited stops and other features that mimic rail lines. Perhaps most important, they will operate almost entirely in bus-only lanes to keep passengers moving.
“(Bus rapid transit is) intended to be a premium service, like light rail,” MARTA project manager Bryan Hobbs told Druid Hills residents who attended an online meeting last week.
MARTA says bus rapid transit in the Clifton Corridor would operate the same way. It would take longer to travel the route by bus — 20 to 30 minutes, compared with 15 to 26 minutes by rail. But it would cost substantially less than rail (up to $860 million vs. up to $3.1 billion), and it could be built faster (five to seven years, compared with eight to 10 years).
MARTA also must decide whether the line should go to Avondale station or Decatur station. MARTA says possible Avondale routes would serve more people and jobs and connect to more transit routes. Possible Decatur routes have a higher share of low-income residents and would serve more schools and colleges.
Rich Brasher, an Emory Grove neighborhood resident, welcomed the prospect of the new transit line.
“I’m all for transit,” he said. “I think it would add value to our community.”
But Brasher expressed concern about MARTA’s plan to elevate the transit line to cross CSX tracks. Depending on how high the line is elevated, Brasher said it could create a “Spaghetti Junction” of overlapping roads and rail lines in the neighborhood.
Resident Adam Francois Watkins also worries about an elevated transit line.
“We’re supportive of getting something done,” Watkins said. “The big thing is, MARTA needs to work really well with all the neighborhoods along this line.”
MARTA is studying six possible light-rail routes and four bus rapid transit routes. It’s seeking input at community meetings and through an online survey through the end of August.
The agency plans to narrow its choices to three possible route/transit mode combinations in September. The MARTA board is expected to make a final decision on the route and mode in March.
MARTA’s Clifton Corridor
Want to comment on MARTA’s plans for a Clifton Corridor transit line? You can take an online survey at https://connectclifton.com/.