By Clare S. Richie
Despite the 2012 T-SPLOST defeat, MARTA and its regional partners are actively pursuing the Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative, a proposed light rail line that would link the Lindbergh and Avondale Stations and provide relief to one of Atlanta’s most congested job centers.
Each day an estimated 50,000 cars travel to Emory University, Emory Hospital, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children’s Healthcare, and the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, through an area described as the Clifton Corridor. In the next 25 years, 65,000 more jobs are expected in this area, which currently lacks access to an interstate or MARTA stations. The three MARTA bus routes (6, 19 and 36) and Emory private shuttles are simply inadequate, according to officials.
“Can you imagine if Downtown or the Perimeter had no interstate or MARTA option?” asked Tameka Wimberly, Clifton Corridor Project Manager -MARTA Office of Transit Systems Planning. “It’s an urban area that’s not connected the way it should be.”
A light rail line connecting the corridor anchors has promise. It could cut current commute times between Lindbergh and Emory in half and shave 17 minutes off the trip from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The line would also provide access to Cheshire Bridge, Suburban Plaza, and DeKalb Medical Center and connect riders to the Red and Gold (North) Lines and the Blue (East) Line.
Right now, the proposed project is in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) phase that will look at two alternatives; the second (Alternative 2) is a lower-cost option with only street level (at-grade) rail. This phase includes environmental analysis, cost refinement, station locations/design, other potential impacts, as well as community outreach and public hearings. More details like track locations, traffic signals, bike lanes, sidewalks, and bus route connections will come later.
Completion of the final EIS statement is expected in 2017. Submission of the statement is the first step in applying for federal funding under the New Starts program.
A project this size isn’t cheap. “$700 million is the current cost estimate for Alternative 2. It assumes light rail operating on street level with existing vehicles, but costs could change as the project is refined in the EIS process,” according to Wimberly.
What’s also daunting is that the Federal Transportation Administration expects 50 percent or more of the project cost to come from local sources. “Atlanta is competing with cities like Los Angeles that only ask for 20 percent federal funding,” Wimberly shared. And MARTA is the only subway system in the country that doesn’t receive state funds.
Instead, MARTA and its supporters will work with the Georgia General Assembly to pursue levying a half-penny sales tax in DeKalb and Fulton counties.
If all goes as planned, light rail service in the Clifton Corridor could begin in 2025.