MARTA approves bus transit line on Campbellton Road in SW Atlanta

MARTA’s board of directors on Thursday officially chose what form of transit it wants to traverse Campbellton Road in southwest Atlanta.

The board voted to select bus rapid transit — not light rail — as the preferred design for the 6-mile line. The board’s vote is needed to pursue crucial federal funding.

It was the first in a series of big decisions MARTA faces as it expands and revamps its metro Atlanta transit services. The agency expects to pick a preferred transit mode for its proposed Clifton Corridor line over the next year. It also plans to decide whether to redesign its bus network with more frequent service on fewer routes.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“Today is a day that took longer than I thought it would to get here,” board member Robbie Ashe said after the vote. “And it hasn’t been without its bumps, and hasn’t been without its travails and its disagreements along the way.”

The agency now plans to seek a grant from the Federal Transit Administration, while the city of Atlanta hopes to get its own federal infrastructure grant to support the project.

The existing Route 83 along Campbellton Road is MARTA’s second-busiest bus route, but the bus rapid transit line will differ substantially from the existing bus service. Designs show MARTA would use exclusive lanes to keep passengers moving. Bus rapid transit also includes features that mimic rail lines — including designated stations, pre-boarding fare payment and real-time information signs.

Credit: Courtesy of MARTA

Credit: Courtesy of MARTA

MARTA began a detailed study of the Campbellton Road Corridor nearly three years ago — the kind of study needed for federal funding. In February, it released its findings, recommending bus rapid transit instead of light rail.

MARTA found rapid buses would cost far less than light rail ($130 million versus $340 million). It also found a rapid bus line could open in 2028 — three years sooner than light rail — and would be almost as fast (18 minutes for the full 6-mile trip) as light rail (16 minutes).

ExploreMARTA’s choice for new transit line: rail or rapid buses?

That announcement led to some pushback from community members and City Council members, several of whom worried that southwest Atlanta would receive less of any investment than other parts of town. It sparked a debate in the community over light rail versus bus rapid transit, as MARTA worked to sell residents on the latter option.

“Once again, an African-American, working-class community is being betrayed,” former state Sen. Vincent Fort, who prefers the light rail option, told the MARTA board during the public comment period. He called the bus rapid transit design a glorified “express bus.”

The board’s Vice Chair, Roberta Abdul-Salaam, moved that the board hold off on approving the measure, but no one seconded her motion.