Efforts to improve transit across metro Atlanta took a step forward Tuesday when a state agency released a tentative list of projects for a regional transit plan.
The plan includes major rail projects such as the Clifton Corridor and the Beltline in Atlanta, a MARTA extension to Norcross and a commuter rail line to Clayton County. It also includes bus rapid transit lines in DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties and other improvements across 12 metro counties. Many will require hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding, local sales taxes or other money to move forward.
That funding is far from assured. But by creating a regional plan, the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority hopes to encourage transit expansion and coordinate service in a region better known for its addiction to automobiles.
“It may be a little more aspirational than reality,” Chuck Warbington, a board member for the new state agency, said of the project list. “However, you have to start somewhere. When you build a house, it starts out aspirational as well.”
Last year the General Assembly created the agency — also known as the ATL Board — to oversee transit planning in funding in the Atlanta region. The idea is to create a seamless regional transit system out of the alphabet soup of local agencies that provide service.
The ATL Board spent much of this year gearing up for one of its top duties — creating a regional transit plan. On Tuesday it released a tentative list of 76 projects requiring federal or state funding that would be included in the initial plan.
The list includes a mix of new transit lines and expansions to existing service. It includes projects from 12 of the 13 counties the ATL Board oversees — Fayette County declined to submit any transit projects for consideration.
Among the projects included:
- The Clifton Corridor light-rail line, stretching from MARTA’s Lindbergh station to the Emory University/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention area in Atlanta.
- Light rail along the entire 22-mile Atlanta Beltline.
- A commuter rail line from MARTA’s East Point station to Jonesboro and Lovejoy in Clayton County.
- A MARTA Gold Line extension from Doraville to a new transit hub at Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Norcross.
- Bus rapid transit service along various routes in Atlanta and in DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties.
The list also includes smaller projects, such as new bus transfer stations, park-and-ride lots and other facilities across the region.
The list leans heavily on transit plans developed by each county. The ATL Board reviewed 192 projects submitted by local governments and agencies, but it determined many are in early development, don’t require federal funding or lack enough details to be further evaluated for now.
It evaluated the remaining 76 projects based on a variety of criteria, including impact, market potential and the availability of local funding. Though they were not ranked, the projects were sorted into categories such as “higher impact, lower cost” “lower impact, lower cost” and “higher impact, higher cost.”
The availability of funding will be a key factor in which projects move forward. The agency estimates the projects would cost a combined $16 billion.
In recent years, voters in Atlanta and Clayton County approved new sales taxes to pay for transit expansion — key sources of revenue that will boost their projects’ chances. Other counties – such as DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett — may ask their voters to approve similar taxes as soon as next year.
Federal funding will be required for major projects, such as rail or bus rapid transit lines. The ATL Board will serve as traffic cop as local projects move through the federal funding process — having a big say in which projects get first shot.
The board will hold a series of public hearings on its proposal beginning in October. With that feedback, the board expects to finalize the plan in December.
Warbington said the plan likely will change over time.
“The plan that we ultimately approve (this year) is not the plan that will be in place even 10 years from now,” he said. “There will be tweaks every year, as there should be.”
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