MARTA working to add parking spots at 3 train stations

Even the early birds can’t seem to get a coveted parking spot at a MARTA station some days.

MARTA said it is negotiating with AT&T to purchase three parking decks at train stations that would open up about 2,100 spots between all three stations sitting at the end of a MARTA line: North Springs in north Fulton County, Doraville in DeKalb and College Park, which is the last station before Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

AT&T confirmed that they had been approached to sell the lots earlier this year, but neither would give The Atlanta Journal-Constitution details of the talks, like how much MARTA might pay for the decks.

“MARTA is negotiating with AT&T to utilize these spaces, and while we have not yet reached an agreement, we remain hopeful we will find a resolution that benefits both parties and is customer-centric,” said MARTA spokeswoman Stephany Fisher.

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The parking decks are strategically located at three stations that often fill up with commuters on workdays, sending MARTA riders scrambling to another station that still has available parking spaces.

The problem is bad enough that multiple mayors of cities near the stations have written letters to MARTA to express their support of a deal that would add more parking for their transit-riding residents.

The North Springs and Doraville stations are the northern endpoints for the red and gold lines, respectively, and act as hubs for northside commuters to park and take the train into the more congested city. College Park acts as a southern waypoint for commuters because it is the last station before southbound service ends at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It also fills up on holidays as travelers park there to take the train to the airport.

Joe Chandler, AT&T spokesman, said the decks were built in the early 2000s as an amenity for its workers. He said the company has 20,000 employees in metro Atlanta.

Fisher said AT&T leases the land from the transit agency. She said AT&T was among the first of Atlanta’s major employers to locate their offices near public transit. So they built parking decks at stations as a way to encourage employees to take transit.

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Fisher said many of the almost 2,100 spaces in AT&T’s parking decks are mostly empty every day. When asked why, Chandler said “utilization fluctuates” but gave no further details.

A federal judge in June 2018 approved AT&T's $85 billion merger with Time Warner amid objections from President Donald Trump's Justice Department. AT&T would not say if the merger affected the number of MARTA riders who use its lots.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said he doesn’t like the sight of empty AT&T parking spots next to jam-packed MARTA decks at the North Springs station in his city.

“It’s just woefully inadequate parking,” the mayor said.

He said the North Springs MARTA deck is often filled by 7:30 a.m., well ahead of the worst of morning traffic. An electronic sign over Ga. 400 advises drivers if the deck is full and they should continue south to the Sandy Springs station instead.

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In contrast, when the MARTA North Springs station parking deck was full on Wednesday, a reporter visited the AT&T deck at the North Springs station and found the top two levels empty.

Paul said he’s been asking MARTA to build more parking there for past four years. Even if the transit agency buys the AT&T deck at North Springs, it won’t be enough for him.

“That will help, but there’s the need for more parking (than that) from AT&T,” he said.

Doraville Mayor Donna Pittman wrote a Sept. 17 letter to Venessa Harrison, the head of AT&T’s Georgia operations, supporting the purchase. Pittman wrote that her city’s station often fills up too fast, saying that “undercuts the reliability of utilizing the MARTA rail system to reach those job centers and special events.”

On the southside, College Park City Manager Terrence Moore said Wednesday that he only found out about the parking negotiations in recent days. He said the city will review the deal and find the “either positive or adverse impacts to the city of College Park.”

Fisher said the transit agency has been exploring the idea for a while, but an unexpected experiment showed them the power of those lots: After the I-85 bridge collapse in March 2017, MARTA worked with AT&T to open the extra decks for public parking in order to alleviate traffic caused by all the re-routing.

About seven months after the bridge collapse, the partnership ended and the lots were returned to AT&T employees.

Paul said he hopes MARTA and AT&T can reach an agreement because traffic isn’t getting any better.

“We got to deal with the problem today,” Paul said.

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