By John Schaffner

Representatives of MARTA and Atlanta BeltLine Inc. held a public meeting Nov. 2 at Piedmont Hospital for a handful of residents who showed an interest in what the organizations are proposing for alternative transit and trail routes through south Buckhead.

The public workshop of the BeltLine’s Northside Study Group, was to allow the public input into the final document which MARTA and the BeltLine was submitting as part of the Georgia Environmental Policy Act in order to obtain federal funding for the BeltLine—the 22-mile loop of transit, parks and trails that is planned to tie the neighborhoods around the central core of Atlanta together over the next 20 years.

The purpose of the Nov. 2 meeting was to bring the public up to speed with the environmental impact study process and the recommendations and alternatives that will be part of the report to the federal authorities.

But the minimally advertised meeting drew more members of the MARTA/BeltLine study team than representatives of the community to the two-hour session at the McRae Auditorium at Piedmont Hospital. In fact, only about six to eight community representatives attended the session.

Leading the discussion were Henry Ikwut-Ukwa, study project manager for MARTA, and Nate Conable, study project manager for Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

The study team pointed out that input at previous public workshops indicated:

-Local service for BeltLine transit needs to emphasize neighborhood accessibility to stations.

-Transit and rail alignments should run parallel to the maximum extent possible.

-Transit should connect to MARTA rail and buses and the proposed Peachtree Streetcar.

-The transit services should complement and connect with the Atlanta Comprehensive Transportation Plan (Connect Atlanta) and a regional transit vision.

There are two major alternative transit routes being included in the environmental impact study that directly affect the bottom portion of Buckhead.

One uses the current route of CSX freight traffic through the Ardmore Park and Collier Hills neighborhoods of Buckhead, passes adjacent to Piedmont Hospital, crosses Peachtree Road and through the Peachtree Hills neighborhood enroute to MARTA’s Lindbergh Station on Piedmont Road.

The second alternative uses the route of the Norfolk Southern rail system, which passes from northwest Atlanta along the northern boundary of Atlantic Station, past the Amtrak Brookwood Station, along I-85 and north to the MARTA Lindbergh Station.

It was clear from the meeting that MARTA and ABI do not have approval for either route from the two railroad companies but that they are in constant negotiations with both. However, obtaining approval for one of these routes appears to be crucial to the successful connection of the BeltLine through the north and northeast corridors in order to complete the 22-mile transit loop.

From the standpoint of providing trails that not only follow along the transit route but provide direct access to neighborhoods in south Buckhead, the transit alignment using the CSX rail route appeared preferable, especially since residents present pointed out the BeltLine is presently building a trail through Tanyard Creek Park, which crosses under the CSX rail line.

The two alternative modes of transit being considered are light rail and modern streetcars, which could be compatible operating in the same system.

After the present series of public workshops, MARTA and ABI will refine the environmental impact study based on public comments, and submit it to the Federal Transportation Authority for review, which will take place before the end of the year.