MARTA board approves Atlanta expansion timeline

The MARTA Board of Directors on Thursday approved a timeline for the agency’s $2.7 billion expansion in Atlanta.

Under the plan, MARTA would launch two bus rapid transit lines and other bus improvements by 2025. But more expensive light-rail projects such as the Atlanta Beltline and the Clifton Corridor would come years later. And the full light-rail network envisioned in the plan would not be completed until after 2040, though some segments would come sooner.

Atlanta Beltline advocates expressed their displeasure with the timeline at Thursday’s board meeting. They want the full Beltline built by 2030.

“It’s unacceptable,” Matthew Rao of the group Beltline Rail Now told the board. “I’m glad you’re committed to move forward. I urge you to move forward faster.”

MARTA officials say the plan is subject to change, though the agency would need additional funding to speed up some projects.

“I see this as a beginning,” MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker told the audience. “Clearly, as circumstances change, whether it’s new funding coming along, our ability to get federal funds, we will have to react to that, and sometimes quickly.”

In 2016 Atlanta voters approved a half-penny sales tax for transit expansion. Last fall MARTA approved a project list that includes 29 miles of light rail, 13 miles of bus rapid transit lines, the renovation of existing stations and other improvements.

Thursday’s vote lays out an initial timeline for those projects. Among other things, it accounts for expected cash flow from the sales tax, the status of various projects and the desire to distribute improvements equitably across the city.

Under the timeline:

  • MARTA would launch a Capitol Avenue/Summerhill bus rapid transit line and the first phase of its North Avenue BRT line by 2025.
  • The agency would launch three arterial rapid transit lines and renovate Bankhead station by that same year.
  • Also by 2025, construction would begin on an extension of the Atlanta Streetcar east to the Beltline, the renovation of Five Points station and a new transit center at Greenbriar Mall in southwest Atlanta.

Meanwhile, planning would continue on other light-rail projects, including the southwest and northeast segments of the Beltline and the Clifton Corridor from Lindbergh station to the Emory University/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention area.

Some projects — including the Clifton Corridor — will require additional local funding. If that funding were to materialize, it could move up the timeline for those projects.

In a written statement, Emory University called Thursday’s decision “an additional step” toward making transit available for tens of thousands of employees, students and health care patients who visit the area each day.

“Understanding that MARTA and the city must balance many needs, Emory will continue to push for making transit to the Clifton Corridor a top priority,” the statement said.