Video: Atlanta Beltline Inc.
Video: Atlanta Beltline Inc.

Beltline group to present vision to MARTA for complete light rail loop

A group pushing to build rail on the full Atlanta Beltline loop will deliver its vision for how MARTA should spend its expansion tax revenue at a meeting Wednesday of the agency’s board.

The core of the plan presented Tuesday night by Beltline Rail Now would see the 22-mile loop of the city completed with light rail transit. Ryan Gravel, whose master’s thesis formed the basis of the Beltline, said the More MARTA tax is a “generational” opportunity to fund transit with a vision in Atlanta. There isn’t another alternative, he said, to fund mass transit on the loop that connects 45 city neighborhoods.

An artist rendering of the Atlanta Beltline's new Westside Trail. The three-mile trail extension, expected to be completed in 2016, is expected to help stimulate redevelopment in neighborhoods southwest and west of downtown. An artist rendering of the Atlanta Beltline's new Westside Trail. The three-mile trail extension, expected to be completed in 2016, is expected to help stimulate redevelopment in neighborhoods southwest and west of downtown.
Photo: Jim Galloway/Political Insider blog

In May, MARTA officials unveiled a menu of projects, including 22 miles of light rail in the city and 18 miles of bus rapid transit (BRT). But only about seven miles of Beltline rail would be built.

The plan called for building some segments of the Beltline loop and connecting them with the Atlanta Streetcar and a new light rail line along Campbellton Road in southwest Atlanta. The Campbellton line would start as BRT before being converted to rail.

The “Clifton Corridor” line to Emory University would receive the largest chunk of rail funding in the plan. Beltline backers contend voters approved the new MARTA tax counting on Beltline rail, and the Emory area was not a part of the city until an annexation that took place after the MARTA vote.

“We shouldn’t be the only ones to foot the bill” for the Clifton Corridor line, Gravel said of Atlanta voters.

The plan unveiled Tuesday night largely aligned with a blog post Gravel wrote in recent months. He said the Emory area, while in need of mass transit, shouldn’t jump ahead of the Beltline, and that the Emory project should be funded regionally.

This MARTA presentation shows the major transit improvements proposed for the “More MARTA” program approved by Atlanta voters in 2016. The projects include light rail (yellow), bus rapid transit (blue) and arterial rapid transit (red) lines. Not pictured: Local bus improvements, new bus transfer stations and renovation of numerous existing transit stations. SOURCE: MARTA.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Beltline Rail Now vision calls for MARTA to preserve Atlanta’s share of funding for the Clifton line until DeKalb and other regional partners produce their shares of the project.

The Campbellton Road corridor should be re-imagined exclusively as a model BRT system, Gravel said, with raised platform stations, dedicated right-of-way and signal priority.

Also added to the plan would be infill MARTA stations along the Gold and Red lines at Armour Yards, where the Clifton Corridor could start, and Murphy Crossing on the southern end of the Beltline.

“Beltline is a transit project,” Gravel told a crowd of more than 100 at a Zoo Atlanta unveiling of the group’s transit plan. “Transit is the core that makes it work.”

Beltline rail, he said, has had more vetting than any other rail project on the MARTA list, with engineering, environmental work, planning and community engagement all completed.

MARTA’s board expects to make a decision on the project list by September. MARTA officials have said plans are under review, and more money could flow to the Beltline after a series of community meetings this summer.

“This is kind of it, which is why this next 60 to 90 days is critical,” said Cathy Woolard, a former Atlanta City Council president and leader of Beltline Rail Now.

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