MARTA Working with GA Legislature On $5.5 Billion Rail Projects Bill, Which Could Fund Clifton Corridor

According to the Atlanta Business Chroncle, MARTA is working with the Georgia Legislature pass a bill this year that would ask voters to approve a sales tax increase that would fund $5.5 billion in new rail projects in Fulton and DeKalb County over the next couple of decades.

MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe characterized the effort as ““What we’re looking for is to give Fulton and DeKalb the same thing Atlanta got in 2016,”.  In 2016, Atlanta residents the General Assembly passed and voters ratified $2.5 billion for new rail projects in the City of Atlanta, but nowhere else.

“Does this better connect the Decatur rail commuter to the broader region?”, you ask.  Why perhaps.  Perhaps indeed.  From the ABC…

Rail projects that could be funded through the new legislation include a light-rail line along the Clifton Corridor, an extension of MARTA’s North Line from Dunwoody to Alpharetta, an extension of MARTA heavy rail east along Interstate 20 and bus-rapid transit service, also along the I-20 corridor.

Here are a couple of Clifton Corridor maps that show the current alternatives for routes/stops as of late 2016 from a MARTA “fact sheet”. Click to enlarge.

More as this develops.

MARTA proposed map from 2015 courtesy of WABE

Downtown Decatur Losing Direct MARTA Bus Route To Midtown

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Back in September, MARTA announced that it would be making changes to a number of bus routes – as it regularly does – including Bus Route #2, which currently runs from North Avenue Station in Midtown Atlanta, down Ponce, all the way to Decatur Station.

It held public hearings and opened up its phone lines and fax number (??) to hear the public’s comments on the modifications.  But apparently they didn’t hear enough to convince them to change their minds.

Bus Route #2 is significant to many Decatur MARTA riders because it connects from Downtown Decatur directly to Midtown Atlanta.  Now the route is being shortened, and the #2 will now end its journey east at the more car-centric East Lake MARTA station (see map above), which despite its name sits on the western edge of Decatur’s city limit.

MARTA described the change on its website thusly

Route 2 will be realigned to operate between North Avenue and East Lake stations via Ponce De Leon Avenue on all service days. From North Avenue Station, Route 2 will operate via Ponce De Leon Avenue instead of North Avenue to maintain the integrity of the Ponce De Leon Avenue segment with one route then continue to East Lake Road. Route 2 will then operate along East Lake Road and Park Place into East Lake Station which will be the new terminus.

The eastern segment along W. Ponce De Leon Avenue, Commerce Drive, and Swanton Way into Decatur Station will be discontinued.

Additionally weekday peak (6:00AM-9:00AM & 3:00PM-7:00PM) periods service frequency will be improved from 35 to 30 minutes. Weekday midday (9:00AM-3:00PM) service frequency will be improved from 50 to 40 minutes and Sunday service frequency will be improved from 65 to 60 minutes all day. Trip times will be revised to accommodate the service modifications and improve schedule adherence. Route 2 will be renamed 2-Ponce De Leon/East Lake.

The new route will go into effect this Saturday, December 10th.

MARTA is Getting 18 Articulated Buses!

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Transport wonks and kids under six years old, do I have news for you!

MARTA just announced that it will be adding 18 articulated buses to its fleet in 2016!  A bit of background from the ol’ FB

New Flyer brought one of their XN60 Xcelsior CNG articulated buses to Atlanta so MARTA could take them for test runs on various routes to check for turning, etc. and make sure they fit into our station bus loops. The final decision on which routes and stations will receive the 18 new buses will be announced at a later date. The buses will begin arriving in early 2016 and will be put into service later next year.

I wonder if you’ll be able to rent them out for children’s birthday parties.

MARTA To Make Pitch For $8 Billion in Projects

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Always a favorite topic here: MARTA’s plans for the future!

And in this case, the plans are very large according to a Sunday piece on the AJC.  Here’s the gist of it…

The future of metro Atlanta could become startlingly linear — a single file of major economic development up and down what is now Georgia 400, built along a rail line that would link Alpharetta with downtown Atlanta and its airport beyond.

The biggest public works package in decades would have other elements as well. In DeKalb County, there would be a rail link to Emory University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plus another line shooting eastward along I-20. Within the city of Atlanta, the Beltline awaits.

Wow, that’s a big project.

The AJC describes that northern expansion as a rail line “thrust between Cobb and Gwinnett counties”, who we know have resisted MARTA since it’s inception.

So that’s the basic plan.  How will we pay for it?

Basically, MARTA is trying to tweak the 1/2 cent sales tax that County’s could levy for transportation projects that was approved during the last legislative session. They just need the legislature to remove the five-set sunset currently attached to the sales tax bill and the additional $175-$200 million in new revenue could translate into $4 billion in loans.

And if you’re still a MARTA doubter, this quote in the article from MARTA’s Chairman of the Board, Robert Ashe, is perhaps worth considering…

“Corporations are increasingly demanding immediate proximity to transit stations. State Farm did it when they came here. Mercedes did it. Worldpay did it when it relocated. Kaiser is going to be located two blocks from here because of the Arts Center Station,” Ashe said. The trend will only continue.

Decatur’s Unfunded Streetscape Improvement Projects Ranked

Ever think to yourself — which unfunded Decatur streetscape improvement projects are the most important to the city right now?

No?

Well, because the Atlanta Regional Commission is asking for 4 years worth of grant applications for its Livable Centers Initiative, you will now be made aware.  A note from Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon to City Manager Peggy Merriss as part of tonight’s City Commission meeting, recommends the top 4 projects to be submitted.

Remember, these are currently unfunded projects. Don’t go asking about McDonough streetscape improvements or some such nonsense.

1. Avondale MARTA Station Streetscape Improvements- Resolution R-15-AA

This request will be submitted by MARTA and is our first priority. The City has been asked to provide the 20% match to pay for streetscape improvements on a new interior street that will be built in the proposed Avondale Station mixed-use development, as well as bicycle and pedestrian facilities throughout the site. The total project budget is $1.5 million, which includes a City match of $300,000. The source of local funding will be HOST proceeds.

2. Clairemont-Commerce-Church Street Pedestrian Safety and Bicycle Trail Improvements Resolution R-15-BB

This grant request will be submitted by the City and it is our second priority. The total budget for this project is $4,162,000 and includes approved funding from several sources, including MARTA ($400,000), local matching funds ($753,000 in GO bond and HOST funds), the LCI program ($2,109,000) and GDOT’s Transportation Enhancement (TE) program ($900,000).

While the LCI funds are available immediately, it appears that the Transportation Enhancement portion of the budget ($900,000) may not be available for 4 years. Our goal in requesting the grant is simply to substitute additional LCI funding for the approved TE funding in the same amount. This would bring to total LCI funding to $3,009,000.

3.  East College Avenue Road Diet- Resolution R-15-CC

This grant request will be submitted by the City and it is our third priority. The City of Avondale Estates will be requesting that College Avenue be narrowed from 4 lanes to 2 lanes within their city limits. We recommend a road diet in Decatur so that the number of vehicle lanes is consistent with Avondale’s plan and to provide enhanced – bicycle and pedestrian facilities the length ofEast College Avenue from South Candler Street to the eastern city limits. The total project budget is $4 million, which includes a City match of $800,000.

4. East Howard Avenue Streetscape Improvements- Resolution R-15-DD

This grant request will be submitted by the City and it is our fourth priority. This project will be Phase VI ofthe downtown streetscape improvements. This area is in a local historic district and we do not anticipate significant additional private redevelopment ofthe streetscape in this area. There are also opportunities to explore green infrastructure and innovative storm water treatment in this part of downtown Decatur. The total project budget is $1 million, which includes a City match of $200,000.

Rendering courtesy of MARTA

A First – Legislature’s Transportation Plan Includes Dedicated Transit Funding

For the first time in Georgia’s history, a proposed transportation plan in the legislature includes dedicated funding for transit.

The AJC reports this morning that Georgia House Republicans will unveil a $1 billion transportation plan, with a focus on “critical road and bridge improvements”, but also $100 million annually dedicated to transit.  Details as to how the funding will be allocated have yet to be unveiled.

Up until the present day, the state’s largest transit agency – MARTA – has subsisted solely on a gas tax, which ebbs and flows with the price of gasoline.  It is the only large city transit system in the country with no dedicated funding.

The plan also moves Georgia completely away from a gas sales tax model to fund transportation. The AJC states…

The plan, which will be introduced as legislation Thursday, would shift the state completely away from a sales tax on gas to a 29.2 cents per gallon excise tax. It would eventually end the local sales tax on gas, while allowing counties and cities to levy their own excise tax.

One detail of the plan revealed is that electric and alternative-fuel vehicles would pay an annual $200 “user fee”, which will be set aside to fund public transit.

More details as we learn them.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The Future of MARTA: Mixed-Use, New Routes, Art and Smartphones

A new article on Atlantic’s CityLab site titled “The Remarkable Turnaround of Atlanta Public Transit“, is an interview with MARTA CEO Keith Parker looking back at how the agency got its house in order in 2014 and what lies ahead.

We’ve discussed MARTA’s money troubles for years around here, so the continuing struggle MARTA faces with its unique sales tax funding model shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.  However many of the potential concepts on the horizon sound pretty interesting.  They include…

  1. The Development of Avondale and other MARTA park-and-ride stations into mixed-use developments.  Check out the new-to-me Avondale development rendering above!  (Read CL’s recent profile of Amanda Rhein: “MARTA’s Parking Lot Nemesis”)
  2. “Blowing up the bus routes” – CEO Keith Parker tells the Atlantic, “We have a study underway called the Comprehensive Operations Analysis—COA for short—that reexamines every single route in the service. The goal is to come up with a bus network that’s faster, that requires fewer transfers, and that’s more commonsense. So that people can get from Point A to Point B in a much more customer-friendly manner than now.”
  3. Potential system expansion along GA 400 and the Clifton Corridor 
  4. A push for public art at MARTA Stations
  5. Going “all in on the smartphone” with WiFi access and mobile fare payment.  – Wifi access is a big deal for Decatur Station train riders.  If you’ve ever tried to use a smartphone at Decatur Station, you know what I’m talking about.

Avondale MARTA Station rendering courtesy of MARTA via CityLab