MARTA considers Clayton County’s Tara Boulevard area for commuter rail

MARTA may be targeting the Tara Boulevard area of Clayton County for commuter rail service in one of its first expansions outside the city of Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties.

While such an expansion is still several years down the road, MARTA told Clayton officials and residents at a recent celebration of MARTA’s third anniversary of operations in Clayton that the Tara Boulevard corridor offered a good possibilty for commuter service because of existing Norfolk-Southern tracks in the busy thoroughfare.

“We think that will be beneficial to us in terms of providing some type of rail service cause it’s a quarter that already has rail in a place,” said Don Williams, MARTA’s senior director of transit system planning.

The discussion offered a clue into MARTA’s thinking about Clayton’s mass transit future as the organization studies whether it will bring heavy, commuter or light rail to the south metro community. MARTA began offering bus service to in March 2015 after the county ended its relationsihp with C-Tran in 2010.

Williams said MARTA identified seven areas in the south metro Atlanta county where future rail service could be implemented.

MARTA's remarks come as mass transit, for decades a dirty word among state leaders and outside of MARTA's traditional territory, is gaining support at the State Capitol. Legislative leaders are expected to soon hash out a plan that could allow voters across metro Atlanta to decide whether to pass a penny sales tax increase to bring mass transit to their areas.

MARTA officials said the service also is looking for land in Clayton to build a maintenance facility for bus service and possibly transit that could bring jobs to the area. In addition, the transit agency plans to add two more bus routes to the nine already operating in Clayton by 2020. MARTA did not provide details on where the new routes would be.

Clayton officials at the anniversary event said their community could serve as a model of how to push for mass transit expansion. After C-Tran pulled out of Clayton, residents and officials banded together to petition MARTA to come to the county. A referendum to increase the county’s sales tax by a penny for MARTA service was approved overwhelming in 2014 with 74 percent of the vote.

“We stuck together,” said former state Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, a democrat from Riverdale and MARTA board member who helped shepherd legislation allowing Clayton to vote on MARTA expansion through the Legislature.

MARTA has proved so successful in Clayton that some of its buses reportedly face overcrowding at peak times. It also has helped the county be competitive when trying to attract companies that want to locate in communities with available public transit, leaders said.

“This is not just about riding buses,” said state Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), who also played a role in bringing MARTA to Clayton. “This is bigger than that. This is about economic opportunity.”