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MARTA looking at light rail, bus line options to expand the Clifton corridor

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MARTA looking at light rail, bus line options to expand the Clifton corridor

FILE PHOTO: A MARTA bus at the Decatur, GA MARTA station. File Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated.

Atlanta, GA — MARTA is looking at adding light rail lines linking the Lindbergh and Avondale stations to expand the Clifton corridor. The Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative would provide service to one of the region’s most congested areas serving Emory University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a variety of medical institutions.

The project would expand the Clifton corridor, connecting the red/gold and blue MARTA rail lines to major employment, educational, healthcare and shopping destinations, according to the project website.

The project website states that the community needs, and project purpose are:

– Better transit access for a growing job center

– Improved access to the MARTA rail system

– Improved area connectivity

– Increased options for emergency evacuation and transport

MARTA is currently going through an alternative analysis and presenting that to the public to highlight the alternative options that will be narrowed down for another evaluation. The options will be narrowed down to the top three alternatives, after the public meetings.

To submit comments to MARTA about the project, contact Project Manager Bryan Hobbs at [email protected].

“We are studying [bus rapid transit] with this project,” MARTA Project Manager Bryan Hobbs said. “That is something we started back in 2018, which we will now move forward into a much deeper evaluation. We are looking at off-wire rail technology for this project. This is something we’ve been asked to look at with some of our partners and stakeholders.”

The agency is focusing on the CSX corridor and speaking to CSX about the possibility of having a shared corridor. MARTA is also considering adding an east terminal at the Decatur station.

The light rail alternatives include six options. All lines would start at the Lindbergh station, connecting to the Cheshire Bridge and Sage Hill/ Briarcliff stations. At the Sage Hill station, most of the lines go through the CDC, Emory University and North Decatur, but one line branches off to the Emory Conference Center, Emory University and Andrews Circle, connecting with two other lines at North Decatur.

From the North Decatur station, the three lines would end at the Avondale station. At the Emory-Clairmont station, a few lines go to Scott Boulevard and end in Decatur.

The bus rapid transit alternative has four options. All four lines begin at Lindbergh Center. Three of the lines would end at the Decatur station and one would end at the Avondale station.

“For the alignment length, travel times and average speed, the Decatur alignments are going to be a lot shorter with regard to going to Avondale,” Hobbs said. “The times, the speeds and the average length of time to get to those stations and get into areas is a little shorter, as it should be.”

The travel times for light rail and the bus average about 15-20 minutes at the Decatur station. The light rail lines ending at the Avondale station would have an average travel time of about 22-26 minutes. The biggest difference in travel times is for the bus line ending at the Avondale station. The average travel time would be about 34 minutes.

“That [difference] is because we are in mixed traffic in the front end of the project near the Lindbergh area,” Hobbs said.

Although the alignments lengths for the Decatur alternatives would be 6.2-7.2 miles and for the Avondale station would be 8.1- 10 miles, according to Hobbs’ presentation.

Hobbs said there are many benefits going toward the Avondale station.

“The alternatives in Avondale [see] slightly higher current and forecasted population towards that area, higher current and forecasted employment, and we also touch many more medical facilities going toward the Avondale alternatives, as well as grocery stores,” Hobbs said. “When we started looking at the Decatur alternatives, we start to touch more childcare facilities or more educational facilities. Also, going towards the Decatur alternative, we start to see a higher share of population below the poverty line.”

The Avondale alternatives also have more activity centers and opportunities for transit-oriented development, as well as more existing and planned transit connections. The Decatur alternatives would also see more existing bicycle facilities.

Both alternatives see about the same share of minority population, seniors and zero-car households, Hobbs added.

MARTA anticipates beginning construction on the light rail in 2031. MARTA has not yet provided a timeline for the bus alternatives, but anticipates the work to be done before the light rail construction.

Estimates for the bus rapid transit alternatives cost to range from $670 million to $860 million. The most expensive BRT alternative is 41% of the lowest cost for the light rail transit.

The light rail transit alternatives range from $2.1 billion to $3.1 billion in 2031 and the Decatur alignments, which are shorter, could reduce costs. The $2.1 billion option is the least expensive option, but relies on MARTA fully acquiring the CSX corridor. Hobbs said the full acquisition of the CSX corridor is unlikely, but MARTA studied it as an option.

The operating cost for light rail ranges from $15.4 million to $27.7 million per year and for bus rapid transit ranges from $5.1 million to $10.9 million, depending on the lines used.

As for next steps in the project, MARTA will complete the screen one evaluation and determine the best alternatives for the screen two evaluation. They will refine the alignments, do more public engagement, and anticipate making a recommendation for the locally preferred alternative and having the MARTA board adopt the plan by October.

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