Metro transit board approves contract to study rapid bus plan along I-285

Two metro Atlanta agencies have awarded a contract to study bus rapid transit on the top end of the Perimeter. (AJC file photo)

Credit: AJC file photo

Credit: AJC file photo

Two metro Atlanta agencies have awarded a contract to study bus rapid transit on the top end of the Perimeter. (AJC file photo)

Two metro Atlanta transit agencies are taking another step toward establishing rapid bus lines on the top half of the Perimeter.

The Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority Board on Thursday awarded a $6.7 million contract to the engineering firm CDM Smith to study transit on the top half of I-285. The MARTA board of directors also recently approved the contract.

The move comes as the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to build two toll lanes in each direction along the northern half of the Perimeter between I-20 east of Atlanta and I-20 west of the city. Like other metro Atlanta toll lanes, they will allow motorists to bypass traffic congestion if they’re willing to pay by the mile.

But those lanes also will carry buses. And state and local officials believe the 35 miles of Perimeter lanes could form the backbone of a commuter bus network connecting eight cities, three counties and multiple transit services.

Last year, representatives of numerous state and local agencies agreed to study bus rapid transit on the Perimeter. Bus rapid transit is designed to mimic rail lines: Passengers board at stations and pay before they board, and the vehicles stop less frequently than regular local buses.

MARTA plans to break ground on the region’s first rapid bus line — along Capital Avenue and Hank Aaron Drive in Atlanta — later this month. The agency also plans such lines on Campbellton Road and the Clifton Corridor in Atlanta and in Clayton County.

Under the contract awarded Thursday, CDM Smith will study where it would make sense to build bus stations along I-285, how much they would cost and related matters. GDOT will use the information as it seeks a firm to build, finance and operate the toll lanes for 50 years.

GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry, a member of the regional transit board, described the cooperation of numerous agencies in establishing transit along the Perimeter as “a truly historic agreement.”

“This is a big deal,” added former Gwinnett County Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, a member of the board.

The study contract will be for two years, with two optional one-year extensions. GDOT revised its schedule for various metro Atlanta road projects last year and has not announced a new opening date for the Perimeter toll lanes. But McMurry said GDOT will be able to use information from the transit study during what is expected to be a lengthy procurement process.