A MARTA workshop looking rail line farther into North Fulton drew a packed house at the Hampton Inn on Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs July 17.

Sandy Springs resident Nancy Lesser doesn’t want to see Dunwoody Springs Elementary School torn down if MARTA extends its rail line north.

But she fears that could happen if the tracks run on the east side of Ga. 400. She believes the train should run on the west side of the highway.

“More multifamily homes and businesses are on the west side, and they use public transit already,” said Lesser, who lives in the Roberts Drive area.

Lesser was among about 100 Sandy Springs and Dunwoody residents who attended the latest in a series of meetings MARTA is holding to gather public comments on the potential project.

The transit authority is considering extending service from the North Springs station to the Forsyth County line. MARTA is examining three options for the project: bus rapid transit, light rail and extending the current heavy rail line.

Joan Rush, Lesser’s neighbor, agreed the train should run on the west side of the highway. “I’m not opposed to expansion,” Rush said.

MARTA officials say they are considering public opinion before determining whether the line would run on the east or west side, or a combination of both.

“The general opinion in this area below the Chattahoochee [River] is that alignment should be on the west side,” MARTA planner Janide Sidifall said.

But, she said that the decision on the location will not be made soon. “At this point in the study we want to know, do they agree we should extend the line, what technology do they prefer, and what do they think about station locations?” she said.

She said a study of the project’s effects on the community and natural resources must be conducted before the agency can determine where the line expansion might be located.

Sandy Springs and Dunwoody city officials have publicly expressed support for building on the west side of Ga. 400, saying building on the east side would interfere with neighborhoods. But, in earlier meetings, MARTA representatives have stated that expanding on the west side could cost hundreds of thousand of dollars more because it would involve crossing Ga. 400.

Lesser referred to a 2003 agreement between MARTA and the Dunwoody Homeowners Association which promised the agency would only expand on the west side. But Sidifall stated in an earlier outreach meeting that because of demographic changes the agency had to “start back at zero in 2011.”

Lesser said she would prefer the agency add a bus line rather than extend the train lines. “Heavy rail is way too expensive, and they’re going for a government grant that’s difficult to get,” she said.

The project is expected to take a decade or more, “assuming everything goes as expected,” project manager Mark Eatman said at the July 17 meeting at the Hampton Inn in Sandy Springs.

Eatman said that a Kennesaw State University poll of north Fulton residents and employees showed both approved of extending the line to Forsyth, and responses were mostly split between heavy and light rail.

The agency is considering adding stations in Sandy Springs, Roswell and Alpharetta 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. The heavy rail option is cheaper than light rail because it extends the current line. The 11.9 mile line would extend from the North Springs station.

“One of the keys to a project like this is having the money to do it,” said MARTA consultant Claudia Bilotto.

She said the agency is eyeing funds from the Federal Transit Administration, which grants money for projects based on factors such as mobility improvements, cost effectiveness, congestion relief, environmental benefits, land use and economic development.

For more information or to comment online, visit www.itsmarta.com/north-line–400-corr.aspx  or email Connect400@itsmarta.com.

Ann Marie Quill

Ann Marie Quill is Associate Editor at Reporter Newspapers.