MARTA defends Five Points closure

MARTA plans to close pedestrian and bus access to Atlanta's Five Points station next month. Photo by Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

MARTA plans to close pedestrian and bus access to Atlanta's Five Points station next month. Photo by Ben Gray

MARTA officials got an earful Thursday from residents concerned about plans to close the Five Points station to pedestrian and bus access beginning next month.

The agency will close street access as it prepares to renovate the downtown transit hub. It will remain closed for years — disrupting the lives of thousands of people who access the station by foot or bus each day.

MARTA says it will take steps to mitigate the impact — such as rerouting buses to nearby stations. But it plans to move forward with construction despite calls to postpone it.

“We feel strongly that it’s important to keep this project moving,” chief of staff Melissa Mullinax told the MARTA board Thursday. “It’s been 11 months since the city chose the design and approved this project. We’re eager to begin construction.”

Some residents say the plans are too disruptive. They urged the board to find a way to keep the station open or to postpone the work.

“The Five Points station doesn’t need to be shut down,” Yvonne Chatman of Atlanta told the board. “You’re going to hurt the state, you’re going to hurt the city and you’re going to hurt the patrons.”

Thursday’s comments were the latest expressions of discontent with MARTA’s plans for the $230 million renovation of Five Points.

The agency plans to remove a concrete canopy over the station plaza, install a translucent roof, build new street-level bus bays and add green space. Construction is expected to begin this summer and last until 2028.

People will still be able to change trains at Five Points during construction — about 20,000 people ride through the station each day. But MARTA will shut down bus access beginning July 6 and pedestrian access on July 29. Pedestrians and bus passengers enter or exit Five Points about 9,600 times a day.

MARTA plans to temporarily reopen street access during the 2026 World Cup soccer tournament. And the agency says it will reopen street access permanently as soon as possible.

But its plans have riled many residents. Carden Wyckoff uses a wheelchair and told the board MARTA is her primary mode of transportation. She said closing the station will adversely affect people with disabilities.

“We depend on you,” Wyckoff told the board. “Please find an equitable way to create safe transfers.”

City and downtown business leaders have also criticized the new Five Points design for more than a year. They say MARTA’s plans for street-level bus bays will block pedestrian access and undermine the kind of “city square” feel they’d like to see around the region’s primary transit hub.

This week Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson repeated his call for MARTA to reconsider its “flawed design.” In a written statement, he said MARTA should develop a new plan and delay construction until after the World Cup.

Robinson also said MARTA should allow “appropriate station access” during construction. He said New York and Chicago have allowed station access during renovations.

Last week Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens raised another concern. In a letter to MARTA CEO Collie Greenwood, he cited preliminary audit findings that show the transit agency owes tens of millions of dollars to its Atlanta expansion fund, which is supported by a half-penny sales tax city voters approved in 2016.

The audit was prompted by suspicions that Atlanta taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth from the transit sales tax. Last year MARTA acknowledged that it had spent far more than anticipated on expanded local bus service in Atlanta — leaving less money for new transit lines. Some Atlanta officials believe MARTA has been charging for expanded service it didn’t provide.

The city’s audit of MARTA expansion funds won’t be completed until next month. But in his letter, Dickens cited preliminary findings that show MARTA owes at least $70 million to its expansion fund.

The mayor asked MARTA to postpone construction at Five Points until after the audit is completed. MARTA rejected that proposal in a response to Dickens this week. The agency also said its own estimate shows it owes only $9 million.

On Thursday, board members expressed their support for moving ahead with the project. But they also urged MARTA staff to ease the burden on people with disabilities and other customers.

“We do understand the impact that’s happening at Five Points station,” board member Roderick Frierson said. “It’s going to be an inconvenience for our riders to do this.”