DeKalb commission revives I-20 rail discussion

A man was pinned beneath a MARTA train Tuesday afternoon and MARTA police continue to investigate the incident. (Credit: MARTA)

Credit: MARTA

Credit: MARTA

A man was pinned beneath a MARTA train Tuesday afternoon and MARTA police continue to investigate the incident. (Credit: MARTA)

DeKalb commissioners voted Tuesday to re-state their support for MARTA rail service along I-20 in the southern end of the county.

Commissioner Larry Johnson, who drafted the resolution that passed by a 5-2 vote, said the current political climate could produce federal funding to help make the long-discussed idea a reality. And a fresh statement of the county’s wishes is a good first step in the quest to secure grant money, he said.

“At no other time in the past discussions have we had two Democratic [United States] senators who have been very interested in DeKalb County,” Johnson said. “We also have a congressman that is very interested in DeKalb County.”

“These are folks that want to see underserved people get their shot. The stars are aligned like they’ve never been before.”

As envisioned in previous studies and proposals, MARTA would extend its rail line south from the existing Indian Creek station. The line would then head east along I-20, all the way to the Mall at Stonecrest.

As many as five new stops would be built.

It’s something that’s been discussed for years and years but has never become a reality. Advocates have frequently accused MARTA of favoring projects in whiter, more affluent areas while ignoring promises made in predominantly Black communities like southern DeKalb.

“There’s always a reason why we can’t do something in south DeKalb County,” Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson said. “We don’t have to beg for crumbs.”

Commissioners Jeff Rader and Ted Terry cast the lone votes against Tuesday’s resolution.

Terry is a transit advocate but said he couldn’t support the resolution if it didn’t include a local funding mechanism — or at least a commitment to explore what that might look like.

“Otherwise it’s all hat and no cattle,” Terry said. “It’s all talk and no funding.”

If they were eventually obtained, federal grants would likely help cover planning and capital construction costs. But operating costs would have to come from somewhere else.

Traditionally, that involves a local sales tax.

Johnson said he didn’t want to delve into all that just yet.

“Funding is something that we have to take to the citizens,” he said. “That requires a referendum, that requires a whole other process.”

Davis Johnson — whose husband is U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson — said there’s no reason not to move forward.

“Until the congressman and senators say you can’t do this, or we won’t support you, or we need a, b and c before it can happen, I’m ready to go full speed, to fight for heavy rail for the citizens of south DeKalb,” she said. “Because it is very evident that that’s what we need.”