Moderated by Tom Sabulis
MARTA expansion is suddenly in the air — on the south side, where Clayton County commissioners vote today on launching a referendum for a penny sales tax, and on the north side, where the transit agency is exploring a line north along Ga. 400. My column today focuses on the pushback at recent public feedback meeting in Dunwoody. In our second column, a MARTA executive outlines the process of extending service on any Fulton-DeKalb route.
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MARTA, go west (on Georgia 400)
By Tom Sabulis
When the enemy — in this case, big-city transit — seems intent on invading your neighborhood, you can bet the opposition will be out in force.
That’s how it started, at least, when MARTA held an information session on a potential rail expansion north on Ga. 400. About 100 local residents packed the meeting room at Dunwoody Community Church. It was standing room only.
Before the transit agency made its presentation, the locals, most of them older residents, streamed past maps that showed a potential route along the east side of Ga. 400, with stations placed at Northridge Road and all the way to Windward Parkway.
Curiosity tempered by skepticism ruled the day. Concern furrowed brows. A few breathed fire. Some comments were impossible not to overhear:
“Do we need to move?”
“I want to know who to throw out of office.”
“I thought we took a vote and soundly defeated tax money for this.”
Before the introductions even started, it sounded like a MARTA massacre.
Then MARTA representatives took the stage. The transit agency, they explained, is looking to expand in three corridors: North on Ga. 400; on Clifton Road to Emory University; and I-20 to Stonecrest Mall. They told the audience that, while a study process was under way, the agency has no money for any of this. Nothing is etched in stone. Any expansion in these parts is at least 10 years out.
“We got a long way to go, folks,” said Janide Sidifall, a MARTA senior project manager.
Some wished they would just go. They weren’t buying what MARTA was saying.
“You (MARTA) are in favor of this,” one fellow said as a microphone was passed around. “You are trying to pitch this to us. And we’re telling you that we don’t want it.”
Another man: “People in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody want to live in the suburbs. People want to drive out here. So fix the roads!” (Applause).
But as the meeting wore on and more residents spoke, another picture began to emerge, one that wasn’t so black and white.
It seems many residents’ opposition is really opposition to a rail line running up the east side of Ga. 400, a heavy residential stretch that includes a number of schools. Nobody wants that, they said. And yet, that’s what MARTA’s early preliminary plans showed. Cue the pushback.
Some voiced support for MARTA expanding along Ga. 400 if it ran up the more commercial west side, thus saving their neighborhoods and providing easier transit access to businesses on Roswell Road and folks living in east Cobb County.
“I think that they need to have MARTA come north,” Nancy Lesser, a consultant and Sandy Springs mom, told me later. “The congestion is terrible on 400. It does need to go out to the northern suburbs, Holcomb Bridge in particular, and the technology sector in Alpharetta. They need access. That said, going up the east side is a really bad idea.”
Lesser is especially opposed to any station at Northridge Road near two elementary schools. “(A MARTA station) is easy access to the children for strangers and easy access back out. Strangers close to our schools is not what we need in the neighborhood.”
John Mason, a Sandy Springs real estate agent, lives in a house “35 feet” from the Ga. 400 right-of-way where an east line expansion would run. As a real estate professional, he sees both sides to the debate.
“From a seller’s perspective, if you are going to be close to a MARTA rail line, it definitely would impact your property value in a negative way,” Mason said. “But there are a lot of younger people or people that come from cities like I did – Chicago, Boston or New York — who are used to using mass transit and would like to be close to a MARTA station.
“I just placed a Georgia State professor from Phoenix into a home in Dunwoody,” Mason said, “where he could be within short driving distance of the MARTA station at Dunwoody. So there are advantages in property values that are close to MARTA, but negative property values if it’s right along the track or next to a station. It’s a double-edged sword. But I do believe it would benefit a lot of people if (MARTA) crossed over 400 to the west side.”
MARTA reps reminded residents to provide feedback, and that nothing — east side or west side — had been determined.
That didn’t convince one man who said he knew neighbors who couldn’t sell homes because of MARTA’s too-early projected maps up the east side.
“If you haven’t picked a spot, don’t show a spot,” he said. “Listen to us, keep up the good work, and move it to the west side.”
MARTA wants to hear from public
By Cheryl L. King
For years, the area surrounding the Ga. 400 corridor has seen exponential growth. North Fulton County has become one of the region’s most significant employment centers, attracting new residents and businesses every day. The Atlanta Regional Commission projects the area will add approximately 65,000 new jobs and 19,000 new residents by 2040.
Meanwhile, automobile traffic on Ga. 400 is increasingly congested, contributes to poor air quality, and wastes valuable time and money because of chronic travel delays. In response to these challenges, in 2011, MARTA began working on the Connect 400 Transit Initiative.
Connect 400 is one of three expansion projects MARTA is studying to address transportation needs in high-growth, high-impact areas.
Also under study for future transit expansion are the I-20 East and Clifton corridors. Both need transportation alternatives to make it easier to get around and increase access to jobs and housing.
The I-20 East Corridor extends from downtown Atlanta to southeast DeKalb County. Proposals include a combination of heavy rail from the existing Indian Creek MARTA rail station to the Mall at Stonecrest, and a bus rapid transit or light-rail connection between Wesley Chapel Road and downtown Atlanta.
The Clifton Corridor is planned as an 8.8-mile, light-rail line linking the Lindbergh Center and Avondale rail stations. From Avondale, there would be a connection to the proposed I-20 East corridor rail extension.
Of the three proposals, I-20 East is the furthest along; the Federal Transit Administration is now conducting a mandatory environmental review. The Clifton project is about to begin the environmental review phase of the federal planning process.
As planning for Connect 400 also advances, MARTA welcomes the opportunity to work with the North Fulton community to identify alternative transportation solutions. Connect 400 is still in planning, and no final decisions have been made. That’s why MARTA needs your help. We’re seeking public feedback to identify the transit solution that best addresses the needs of residents, communities and businesses in the area.
So far, three alternatives for Connect 400 have emerged as the most viable from a community and technical standpoint: bus rapid transit, light rail, and an extension of the existing heavy-rail service from the North Springs station to the Windward Parkway area.
With input from the community, MARTA must select a “locally preferred alternative” that will later be evaluated in a detailed environmental review. With additional funding, the project could move to preliminary engineering, then construction and, ultimately, operations.
MARTA has received large amounts of feedback on Connect 400 through emails, letters, surveys, social media and stakeholder interviews. Public support for the expansion of high-capacity transit in the GA 400 corridor is tempered by concerns about increased traffic and impacts to local property values.
With so much at stake, MARTA wants to hear from you as much and as often as we can. Next month, we’ll host community meetings to provide information on the status of the project and the alternatives under consideration.
For more information about the project and upcoming meetings, visit our website at http://www.itsmarta.com/north-line-400-corr.aspx. To express your opinions about Connect 400, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also help by sharing information about the Ga. 400 and other MARTA expansion projects with friends, neighbors, community groups and places of worship.
Metro Atlanta is our home. Today, as we celebrate our 35th Anniversary as a bus and rail system, we’re proud and committed to working with the communities we serve to ensure these exciting new transit projects are the very best they can be.
(For more information on the other MARTA expansion projects, find them on Facebook, or visit online: I-20 East Corridor Transit Initiative — www.itsmarta.com/I20-east-corr.aspx; and Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative — www.itsmarta.com/Clifton-Corr.aspx.)
Cheryl L. King is assistant general manager for planning at MARTA.