Sandy Springs and Dunwoody officials are starting to pay close attention as MARTA takes a new look at mass transit north of the Chattahoochee River.

Don Boyken, chairman of the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, told members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association on Nov. 3 “it’s not too early” to start lobbying the transit agency over its plans to extend the rail line north from the North Springs station.

Boyken said a new MARTA study shows the rail line to the east of Ga. 400, which means neighborhoods in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody would be in the path of construction. Two decades or so ago, local officials convinced MARTA to build on the west side of Ga. 400, he said, but those plans have been set aside and are to be replaced by new ones.

“We as Dunwoody and Sandy Springs need to talk to MARTA to get them to go back to the [old] plan,” Boyken said.

MARTA officials two years ago began again examining ways to provide future mass transit to Fulton County residents who live north of the river. Janide Sidifall, project manager for MARTA, said the agency said “had to start back at zero in 2011.”

MARTA is examining three options: bus rapid transit, light rail, and extending the current heavy rail line north from Sandy Springs. The agency is considering adding stations at Northridge Road, Holcomb Bridge Road, Mansell Road, North Point Mall, Old Milton Parkway and Windward Parkway.

Preliminary estimates show the bus option is expected to cost about $460 million, compared to $1.8 billion for light rail and $1.6 billion for heavy rail, Sidifall said. The heavy rail option is cheaper than light rail, she said, because it extends the current line.

Boyken said residents of Alpharetta, Roswell and other Fulton County cities north of the river support the plan. “Folks north of the river are very much in favor of this line,” Boyken told DHA board members. “They’ve been sitting in traffic for years.”

During the DHA meeting, state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) said he and other members of the community’s legislative delegation would weigh in to try to convince MARTA officials to move the line back to the west side of Ga. 400.

Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), who chairs the Legislature’s MARTA budget oversight committee, said the agency should stick to its prior agreements.

“If an understanding was reached with the community, MARTA should honor it, regardless of the passage of time,” Jacobs said in an email.

The reason MARTA is looking at a rail line east of Ga. 400 is simple: cost. Sidifall said each crossing of Ga. 400 is projected to add “a few hundred thousand dollars” to the cost. If the train crosses to the west side of Ga. 400, it will at some point have to return to the east side, she said.

“It is still possible to go on the west side,” she said. “It is more expensive. And when you’re looking on the national scale, competing with Portland and Dallas and New York and other cities, cost is a big thing.”

MARTA officials presented the plans to Sandy Springs City Council on Oct. 1, and council members agreed a proposed Northridge station should be cut from the plan, according to city records.

“The plan shows a station being located at Northridge on the east side of Ga. 400,” city spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said in an email. “Councilman [John] Paulson spoke against having a station on the east side, where there is a school, office and residential. He suggested extending along the west side.”

Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said she did not agree that the station should be removed from the plan, but agreed that is should be west of Ga. 400.

“I agree with the council that it cannot be on the east side adjacent to several ‘protected neighborhoods,’” she said in an email. “But to pass on an opportunity to have it on the west side is ludicrous in the long run … . The west side has commercial areas and infrastructure (sidewalks) connecting it to the many nearby apartments and Roswell Road.”

The Sandy Springs council did not take a formal vote on the proposal. Sidifall said additional public meetings could be scheduled soon. “Hopefully, we’ll get some folks out from Dunwoody this time,” she said.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.