New way to roll: MARTA touts $300 million bus rapid transit line in Clayton County

A month after saying Clayton County may have to give up its passenger rail dreams, MARTA is moving forward with a “light rail-like” project.

The transit agency told Clayton County Commissioners earlier this week that it could build a nearly $300 million bus rapid transit line that could move as many as 6,000 riders a day in the south metro Atlanta community.

“We are trying to get you something that is like light rail, but is on tires,” said Shelley Peart, director of project development in MARTA’s Department of Planning. “But it’s going to be just as fast, just as efficient.”

The BRT comes on the heels of MARTA’s September announcement that it had not be able to strike a deal with Norfolk Southern to use the freight giant’s tracks to fulfill a long-held dream of Clayton County passenger rail from the transit agency’s East Point Station to Jonesboro and Lovejoy.

Without Norfolk Southern’s tracks, MARTA would need to acquire nearly 300 business and residential parcels, most of them in Clayton County, to run a parallel passenger train. The project would cost $1.7 billion to $2.3 billion to build, MARTA said.

A roughly 16-mile BRT line from MARTA’s College Park station to a Southlake Mobility Center on the county’s southern end, however, was more doable and could attract about $100 million in federal funding.

“These costs are identified currently, but are subject to change as we start the build out and if we run into anything that changes the pricing,” said Kevin Hurley, MARTA’s finance director.

The Southlake BRT line would accompany MARTA’s other plans to enhance transit in Clayton, including more bus shelters, a new bus maintenance facility and facilities at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center.

MARTA is in the environmental impact and preliminary engineering phase right now on the Clayton BRT project and hopes to focus on the final design between 2023 and 2024. Construction would follow and operations are slated to begin sometime in 2026.

Commissioner Felicia Franklin said she was concerned some of the timetables around the project were too nebulous. She also wanted MARTA to put in the same economic and housing development effort along the Clayton BRT as the agency has around Dunwoody and Lindbergh stations.

“Are the investments you’re making only going to Atlanta,” she said, “Or will they come into development around these areas here in Clayton County?”