My late father pointed out to me years ago that Atlanta, in his opinion, has an obvious number one industry: transportation. From the world’s busiest airport, to the lines of freight traffic in the form of tractor trailers, to the convergence of rail lines, Atlanta is most definitely a hub for industry to move. You may know our fair city used to be called Terminus.
Fittingly, traffic is routinely bad in this transportation hub. Another big business for this town is conventions and conferences, with the Georgia World Congress Center and hotels routinely hosting large commercial gatherings and events.
These two fields converge for the 53rd rendition of the world’s largest football game on the spiffy field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Super Bowl LIII marks Atlanta’s first swing at hosting the big game in 18 years. Yes, Atlanta’s last Super Bowl is old enough to be a senior in high school.
Fortunately, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Georgia World Congress Center, State Farm Arena, Centennial Olympic Park, and many other downtown Atlanta destinations are right on the MARTA rail line or very close to it. In fact, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is among the most accessible-to-transit stadiums in the entire NFL. MARTA may actually be the fulcrum upon which this major event is considered a success.
Our transportation beat writer David Wickert wrote a masterful piece recently on how much is at stake for MARTA these next few days. Not only are the nation’s eyes on Atlanta, but the transit program’s reputation with its own potential users is very much on trial. In a few weeks, Gwinnett citizens vote on allowing MARTA into the county for the first time. MARTA knows this and has planned accordingly and has done so better than they did for the College Football National Championship Game in 2018.
Wickert chronicled how trains after the Alabama-Georgia game last January saw extreme delays, with commuters packed on platforms at the stadium and Five Points stops. MARTA admitted later that they were understaffed then, but they had much better results following the December SEC Championship game. That Alabama-Georgia matchup served as a dress rehearsal for Sunday’s big show.
MARTA has set aside $2 million to deploy hundreds of extra staff to run trains until 1 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday and then 24-hour continuous service from 4 a.m. Friday through 2 a.m. next Tuesday. Bus routes near Mercedes-Benz Stadium will also run 24-hour service in that same time frame. MARTA will deploy hundreds of ambassadors at stations to point people in the right directions and to sell Breeze cards. MARTA even has a commemorative Super Bowl LIII Breeze card.
MARTA will also have employees at each train entrance to assist with loading. This will be extremely important at peak times, when waiting crowds turn into slow-churning mosh pits. MARTA will be there to open the pit.
Trains will also run more often, as will the Atlanta Streetcar. And fares will not change. One MARTA bus or train trip is $2.50 and riders should buy at least two at once, so they don’t have to reload their Breeze cards twice. If users plan on getting on and off the train multiple times per day, day passes are $9, two day passes are $14, three days are $16, and four days are $19. However, most events are within walking distance of each other, so more than two trips per day may not be necessary.
There is a one-stop-shop site for all things transit for the Super Bowl: http://martasb53.com/.
Driving toward Downtown Atlanta events between, say, Friday and late Sunday is doing to be a disaster. Traffic may actually not be as awful as expected, but parking prices and availability will be ridiculous. As the week wears on, more streets will close near the epicenter of activity. So don’t plan on cruising down Northside Drive right up to the stadium, in other words.
The downside of this Super Bowl is that our beloved Falcons are not one of the teams. But our hometown’s performance is very much front and center. MARTA has had its difficulties, but, as Wickert pointed out, Minneapolis overcame a huge power outage that knocked out their trains for last year’s Super Bowl. Twin Cities’ Metro Transit had bus bridges in place immediately to get people to the stadium.
MARTA has to have the same scrappyness and preparedness to be able to jump off the blocks when the inevitable problem arises. If an ice storm hits Atlanta, as it did during the 2000 Super Bowl, the transit system will see even more pressure and bus service could see interruptions. The pressure was heavy on the shoulders of the Atlanta Falcons two years ago in Houston. One could argue that the pressure on MARTA and other Atlanta infrastructure components will be greater this week. Let’s hope Atlanta doesn’t turn the ball over in the red zone. Judging by the good results at the SEC Championship, it will not.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.
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