More than 100 residents, politicians, and community leaders were on hand for a town hall meeting Tuesday night to demand that MARTA deliver on the promise of light rail along the Campbellton Road corridor in Southwest Atlanta.
The meeting, held at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, was attended by Mayor Andre Dickens, City Council President Doug Shipman and organized by Council members Marci Collier Overstreet, Antonio Lewis, and Andrea L. Boone.
Community remembers expressed outrage that MARTA is now planning to build a bus rapid transit (BRT) line to run in dedicated lanes along a six-mile stretch of Campbellton Road from the Oakland City station to the Barge Road park-and-ride lot.
The BRT line would cost about $200 million less to construct than the light rail line originally included in the “More MARTA” referendum passed by voters in 2016. Residents wanted to know where the $200 million was going.
Mayor Dickens said he understood the frustration of residents, but also played devil’s advocate concerning BRT vs. light rail.
“We have to ask ourselves what we really want for the community,” Dickens said. “If you go with BRT then there is money for other things. The $200 million could go to transit-oriented development, more lighting, cameras, better sidewalks. BRT would get done faster and it would operate the same as light rail.”
However, Dickens said he also recognized the optics of putting a bus service in Southwest Atlanta and light rail on the Northside along the proposed Clifton Road corridor that would connect Lindbergh station to the Emory University campus.
“I see the class in it, the color in it, and how it looks,” Dickens said.
Former Senator Vincent Fort said he didn’t believe MARTA would invest the additional $200 million on transit-oriented development on the Campbellton corridor. “If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you,” Fort said.
Councilmember Antonio Lewis said the Campbellton community simply wanted “what was promised to us.”
“[MARTA] either forgot what they said or they’re outright lying to us,” Lewis said, adding that light rail was faster service and more equitable. “I know that once Cleveland Avenue, Campbellton Road and Cascade get what everybody in Buckhead’s got, the city is going to work a little bit better.”
Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet said getting light rail on the Campbellton corridor would be the catalyst for big change. “If we get Campbellton Road right, the development will follow and Atlanta will become more equitable. We’ll have more affordable housing, we’ll have grocery stores.”
Residents who spoke during the comment section of the meeting voiced their anger over what they see as a broken promise from MARTA. Several residents and officials noted that the Campbellton Road bus line was the second busiest in the entire MARTA service area.
Before last night’s town hall, MARTA said that light rail was never promised along the Campbellton corridor and was “extremely disappointed… with the negative and inflammatory tone of the conversation surrounding the proposed transit mode.”
“For Councilmember Overstreet and others to suggest MARTA is “stealing” money from Southwest Atlanta and the Campbellton Corridor project is absurd and false,” the statement asserted, noting that Overstreet had previously said her constituents weren’t interested in light rail and supported BRT during a 2018 transportation committee meeting.
In fact, light rail along the Campbellton corridor was included in the list of projects put to voters when they approved a sales tax increase in 2016 to fund the $2.7 billion expansion of MARTA.
MARTA said the light rail inclusion on Campbellton was for planning purposes and has concluded, after two years of analysis and public engagement, that BRT provides “the greatest mobility, faster, and for far less money.”
“Adopting BRT as the mode for Campbellton will allow MARTA to deliver on the promise of better connectivity for southwest Atlanta into the heavy rail system faster,” the MARTA statement said.