Transit supporters are escalating their efforts to pressure MARTA to build light rail on the Atlanta Beltline.
The group Beltline Rail Now plans a march and rally Sunday afternoon to urge MARTA to make the project a top priority. The group says MARTA used the Beltline to persuade Atlanta voters to approve a transit sales tax in 2016. But it says the agency has prioritized another rail project — the proposed Clifton Corridor — since the measure passed.
“It’s unconscionable that they are prioritizing that over Beltline rail,” said Patty Durand, a co-chair of Beltline Rail Now.
MARTA plans to pay for several Beltline-related projects with the proceeds from the sales tax. But in response to the march the agency issued a statement saying it “understands the disappointment of Beltline supporters as the reality of a transit-connected loop of intown neighborhoods has proven more time consuming and costly than originally estimated.”
Sunday’s march is the latest sign that Beltline supporters are growing impatient with the lack of transit along the proposed 22-mile loop of greenspace and walking paths that connects 45 of Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods. And its further evidence that the half-cent sales tax voters approved won’t generate enough revenue to pay for all the transit projects residents want.
The tax is expected to generate $2.7 billion over 40 years. Last year the MARTA Board of Directors approved a list of projects that includes 29 miles of light rail, 13 miles of bus rapid transit lines, three arterial rapid transit routes, the renovation of existing rail stations and other improvements.
The list includes 15 miles of light rail along the Beltline, as well as the 4-mile Clifton Corridor connecting MARTA’s Lindbergh station to the Emory University/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention area.
But Beltline supporters were not happy with a plan to sequence those projects that the board approved in June. That plan puts several bus rapid transit projects on the fast track, while pushing most rail projects — which are more costly — beyond 2030. The 15 miles of Beltline rail wouldn’t be finished unit after 2040, while the Clifton Corridor would be completed before 2040.
That irritates Beltline supporters, who have accused MARTA of a “bait and switch” — using the Beltline to attract votes but prioritizing other projects.
“Instead of spending that money on the Beltline, which they said they would do, they’re putting it in the bank for the Clifton Corridor,” Durand said.
MARTA says it’s not that simple. In its statement, it said it must consider “cash flow, project readiness, system connectivity and geographic balance when planning expansion projects.” And it noted several additional projects will connect to the Beltline — including the proposed Summerhill and North Avenue bus rapid transit lines, Campbellton Road light rail, and an Atlanta streetcar extension.
“We anticipate these projects to be operational, under construction or in the planning and design phase within the next five to six years,” the agency said. “If additional funding sources become available, priorities may shift.”
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