Bowing to public pressure, MARTA has reworked its spending plan from a new sales tax to give more money to Atlanta BeltLine light rail and less to the Clifton Corridor, but still build segments of both with connections to Buckhead’s Lindbergh Center Station. The plan still lacks sales tax funding for the BeltLine rail loop, including a “Northside” section that would run through southern Buckhead.
However, the sales tax will not fully fund those projects anyway, and MARTA also said it will seek innovative ways to pay for them and also create affordable housing on the BeltLine corridor.
“MARTA intends to engage expertise in transit public-private partnerships to help us design a path forward for complete build out of the BeltLine corridor,” MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker wrote in a Sept. 27 letter about the plan to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
BeltLine Rail Now, an advocacy group co-founded by BeltLine creator Ryan Gravel, praised the proposed funding shift for including more of the loop system and expressing optimism that funding will be found for the northern segment as well.
“Community engagement works,” the group said in a written statement. “…While funding for the Northwest Corridor, which is owned by CSX Railroad, was not included, we feel certain that as conversations proceed to gain transit access to the corridor, funds will be found to complete this vital connection.”
The transit plan in question is “More MARTA,” an expansion of MARTA’s 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, a 22-mile path, park and transit loop being built around the city; building the new Clifton Corridor light rail line between Lindbergh Center and Avondale stations through the Emory University area; and adding a new station on the Gold and Red lines at Buckhead’s Armour Yard, 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 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 by its board on a final project list until Oct. 4.
The adjusted project list announced by MARTA Sept. 27 has several items, including the Clifton Corridor between Lindbergh Center and the Emory University area, and a BeltLine rail segment connecting Lindbergh to Ponce City Market and other downtown areas.
The proposal devotes $250 million to the Clifton Corridor. In a written statement, Emory President Claire E. Sterk called it a “historic commitment to public transportation and to the future of our community. … More than a destination for funding, the Clifton Corridor project is a point of departure that will connect people throughout the Atlanta area.”
MARTA’s proposal earmarks a total of $570 million for various BeltLine rail segments, amounting to 61 percent of the planned route, according to MARTA. Parker’s letter to Bottoms notes that sales tax money alone won’t be enough to build the entire BeltLine route.
“MARTA intends to engage expertise in transit public-private partnerships to help us design a path forward for complete build out of the BeltLine corridor,” Parker wrote. “We will work in partnership with Atlanta BeltLine Inc. with the goal of having an actionable plan to leverage BeltLine and MARTA development assets to access private funding and financing. This approach will prioritize joint development of transit and affordable housing along the corridor.”
Other items on the adjusted project list include more than $600 million for “high-capacity transit projects” in southwest and southeast Atlanta, including light rail on Campbellton Road and bus rapid transit between Summerhill and downtown; $238 million for improvements and route additions to the existing bus system; and $200 million to improving existing transit stations, with a priority list that does include any Buckhead stations.
For more information about the “More MARTA” plan, see its website here.