By Jenna Goff

Sandy Springs residents had a simple message for MARTA when discussing how best to extend the transit agency’s trains to the north: Go west of Ga. 400.

“If the expansion were to proceed on the east side of the highway from the North Springs station, it would potentially impact two elementary schools [Woodland Forest and Dunwoody Springs Charter] and many neighborhoods that exist already,” Chip Swearngan, president of the Somerset Homeowners Association in Sandy Springs, told MARTA officials during a meeting with homeowners June 12.

Other residents said a past agreement between MARTA and the community promised MARTA would expand solely on the west side. More commercial development exists on that side of the highway, and fewer neighborhoods would be affected.

“That agreement is still there, but we must consider all options,” said Don Williams, senior director of transit system planning at MARTA. “Nothing is etched in stone. We want to find the best suitable option.”

MARTA officials are examining ways to provide future mass transit to Fulton County residents who live north of the river. The project is expected to take 10 to 15 years.

Janide Sidifall, project manager for MARTA, said that because of changes in the area over the years, the agency “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.

“If we do not have strong community support, we will not do the project. It won’t be funded,” Williams said.

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.

The reason MARTA is looking at a rail line east of Ga. 400 is simply the cost. Sidifall said each crossing of Ga. 400 is projected to add “a few hundred thousand dollars” to the cost of the project. 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.

Sandy Springs and Dunwoody city officials have publicly expressed support for building the rail on the west side of the Ga. 400 highway, saying building on the east side would interfere with neighborhoods.

MARTA is holding a series of public discussions on plans to extend its trains north to Alpharetta. The trains now stop at the North Springs station. MARTA’s plans call for a new station at Northridge Road.

MARTA officials met with residents of the Somerset Homeowners Association and the Northridge Community Association on June 12.

Three more community meetings will be held in the near future to discuss MARTA’s Connect 400 Project. The first will be held on July 8 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Johns Creek Environmental Center; the next will be on July 10 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the GSU Alpharetta Center; the last will be on July 17 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Hampton Inn Atlanta/Perimeter.

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