The MARTA Board of Directors on Thursday got an earful from metro Atlanta residents unhappy about its still-evolving expansion plans.
Residents from DeKalb County and Atlanta complained about the agency’s expansion priorities – most notably the Clifton Corridor light rail line. Some also accused the agency of favoring projects that benefit white residents over black riders. They demanded more service in southwest Atlanta, eastern DeKalb County and other neighborhoods.
“That’s where the black people are,” Joe Beasley of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition said at a press conference outside MARTA headquarters.
The criticisms come as MARTA is finalizing plans to spend $2.5 billion to expand transit service in Atlanta. City voters approved a half-penny sales tax to pay for the expansion in 2016.
Critics of the plan have singled out the largest proposed project: the $503.6 million Clifton Corridor light rail line, which would connect MARTA’s Lindbergh station to the Emory University/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention area annexed by Atlanta last year.
They say the project shouldn’t be a high priority when the area wasn’t even in the city when the Atlanta voters approved the sales tax.
At a press conference, several people demanded heavy rail extensions out I-20 west to Fulton Industrial Boulevard – a project that did not make MARTA’s preliminary plan for Atlanta. Others want rail along I-20 east to Stonecrest Mall in DeKalb.
Atlanta Beltline supporters also asked the MARTA Board for more funding at Thursday’s meeting. The agency’s preliminary plan for Atlanta includes only a third of the proposed 22-mile light rail loop. Advocates want funding for the entire loop.
“If not this (sales tax) money, what money?” said Beltline supporter Kay Stephenson. “We’ve been promised we’re going to have transit on the Beltline. And we don’t see any good way to get there if this money isn’t spent on that.”
The criticisms underscore the difficulty MARTA faces at it seeks to divvy up limited funds available for expansion. Though $2.5 billion sounds like a lot of money, the agency has $11.5 billion in potential projects in Atlanta alone.
DeKalb County officials are conducting their own transit study, which could lead to a transit sales tax referendum in the future.
After the meeting, MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe said the board takes the issues raised seriously and will seek more funding sources to satisfy more demands for service.
“What we heard was a recognition that the system as a whole needs more resources,” he said.