MARTA’s plans for a significant expansion in coming decades took a significant step forward Thursday.
The agency’s board of directors awarded an $11.3 million contract to the engineering firm Kimley-Horn to design the Capitol Avenue/Summerhill bus rapid transit line in Atlanta. It’s the first new transit line in a MARTA expansion that city voters approved in 2016.
At just 2.4 miles from end to end, it’s a modest first step in the agency’s expansion plans. But MARTA plans 35 miles of bus rapid transit in Atlanta and Clayton County in coming decades, plus an additional 51 miles of rail lines and other transit improvements.
Atlanta voters approved a half-penny sales tax for transit expansion in 2016. MARTA finalized its project list two years later and approved a construction timetable for those projects in 2019.
The $68 million Capitol Avenue/Summerhill project is the first new transit line. Construction is set to begin in 2022, and the line would open in 2024.
Bus rapid transit service — available in other cities but not yet in metro Atlanta — is something like a rail line on tires. Rapid buses travel in exclusive lanes and stop less frequently than regular local buses.
Passengers pay in advance to speed up boarding, and they board at transit stations that provide real-time information about bus arrivals.
The $68 million Summerhill line would run along Hank Aaron Drive and Capitol Avenue from the Atlanta Beltline to the southern part of downtown, looping around Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Mitchell Street. It would pass the Georgia State University Stadium, the Georgia Capitol, Atlanta City Hall and other landmarks. And it would drop passengers near MARTA’s Georgia State and Five Points stations.
Other bus rapid transit lines would follow. MARTA plans a 4-mile line along D.L. Hollowell Parkway and North Avenue. The first phase — from the Beltline to the North Avenue MARTA station — is tentatively set to open in 2025.
The agency also plans a 4.5-mile bus rapid transit line from a new regional bus system transfer point at I-75 down to Metropolitan Parkway. And in Clayton County, MARTA plans a 24-mile route from Morrow to the College Park MARTA station.