Buckhead’s Shepherd Center is joining supporters of light-rail transit on the Atlanta BeltLine amid concerns that a MARTA expansion plan will back-burner the trains or replace them with buses.

The private hospital for people with spinal injuries and other neuromuscular problems is located at 2020 Peachtree Road in Buckhead, adjacent to a future section of the BeltLine.

“Shepherd Center is in favor of rail-based public transit along all parts of the Atlanta BeltLine,” said Jane Sanders, the hospital’s director of public relations. “It would benefit Shepherd Center’s workforce, outpatients, sports teams, volunteers and visitors.”

The dark gray line in this map shows the corridor of the future Atlanta BeltLine section through southern Buckhead. (Atlanta BeltLine Inc.)

The BeltLine is a linear park, multiuse trail and transit system being built in a ring around Atlanta along old railroad corridors. The currently open sections only include the park and trail parts, and there is concern MARTA will not built the light-rail trains.

Ryan Gravel, the urban planner who envisioned the BeltLine, is leading a “BeltLine Rail Now” campaign for it to have rail and top priority.

The backdrop is debate over “More MARTA,” an expansion of MARTA’s transit service within the city of Atlanta that is funded by a half-penny sales tax. Approved by voters in 2016, the tax is expected to generate nearly $2.5 billion for transit expansion over the next 40 years.

The “More MARTA” tax was approved with a proposed list of projects. Some of the biggest ones involved southeastern Buckhead, including constructing light rail on the BeltLine; building a new Clifton Corridor light rail line between Lindbergh Center and Avondale stations through the Emory University area; and adding a new Armour Yard station on the Gold and Red lines, offering connections to the BeltLine and Amtrak.

Now that the tax is in place, MARTA says it can’t afford all of the projects —the Armour Yard station is among the casualties —- and is debating construction priority on others. Major controversy has erupted over MARTA’s plan to prioritize the Clifton Corridor and delay BeltLine rail or even change it into bus service or something else. The controversy has caused MARTA to delay a vote of its board on a final project until early October, though Aug. 31 remains the public comment deadline.

Rail is still on the list for a small section of the BeltLine that would come into the Lindbergh Center area, but even that is in doubt now, and the plan does not include immediate work on rail on most of the BeltLine, including a large section that would run roughly east-west through southern Buckhead.

The “BeltLine Rail Now” campaign also calls for restoring the Armour Yard station to the mix.

Other “More MARTA” projects for Buckhead on the original list are still slated to happen. They mostly involve bus service upgrades intended to mean faster travel times on Peachtree Street/Road and Northside Drive. The North Buckhead Civic Association has called for more transit improvements in its neighborhood.

For more information about the “More MARTA” expansion, see its website here. For more information about the “BeltLine Rail Now” campaign and a related petition, see its website here.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.