MARTA aims to fund transit on Atlanta’s BeltLine this year, and Sandy Springs just might run a streetcar on Roswell Road.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul gets a front-row seat as (from left) MARTA CEO Keith Parker; Sandy Springs Assistant City Manager Bryant Poole; PCIDs President and CEO Yvonne Williams; and Christopher Tomlinson, executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority talk at the Leadership Sandy Springs “transportation summit” March 29 at the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria hotel. (Photo John Ruch)

Those were some of the idea floated by experts, including MARTA CEO Keith Parker, at a March 29 “transportation summit” hosted by Leadership Sandy Springs at the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria hotel. The other panelists were Bryant Poole, Sandy Springs’ assistant city manager in charge of transportation planning; Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Christopher Tomlinson; and Yvonne Williams, the Perimeter Center Improvement Districts president and CEO. The moderator was David Rubinger, publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle and a Sandy Springs resident.

The experts preached a “multi-modal” solution to Perimeter commuter traffic, where many different types of transportation—walking, biking, driving, public transit—are all good and interconnected options. That’s a common topic in local transportation discussions, but the experts gave a few new insights and ideas.

A Roswell Road streetcar?

Sandy Springs has drawn attention in recent months for talking about possible futuristic mass transit, such as a monorail or gondola system, for Perimeter Center. PCIDs and its three cities are about to launch a new study of such alternative transit options.

At the summit, Poole pitched yet another idea: “trolley service up and down Roswell Road.” He said the city is considering that as one of many options in its master planning process. A Roswell Road streetcar might require taking away one lane in each direction from private vehicle traffic, he said. “I’m already seeing the reaction on people’s faces” that they find the idea impossible, Poole said, but noted some other cities are making streetcars work.

“We’re looking for the future. We’re looking for the greatest technology to make things better,” Poole said.

MARTA expansion

Atlanta has a new streetcar that isn’t doing so well, but Parker said that’s because it’s a “starter line” that will grow once it connects to other transit. And that could happen, he said, now that the state Legislature just passed a bill allowing Atlanta to seek a MARTA-funding sales tax increase. Parker said he thinks the Atlanta transportation package that will go before voters this fall “will include a healthy dose of what we think are smart connectors” linking Atlanta’s BeltLine path/park system and MARTA.

Parker called the potential Atlanta funding of MARTA a “very positive first step” in future expansion into Fulton County.

I-285/Ga. 400 traffic

The Perimeter highway is both a solution and a problem to the transportation experts. Williams explained that the state’s expansion of the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange, slated to begin early next year, will cause short-term  traffic headaches and long-term benefits, including toll lanes that can double as future bus or rail transit.

Williams said she expects the interchange construction contract to be certified by the state April 8, followed by a clearer construction schedule. She said she expects the Ga. 400 work will be done first because the state still has some land acquisition issues along 285.

Another big impact coming to 285 next year is the new Atlanta Braves stadium in Cobb County. While there is a lot of talk about game-day impacts, Poole said the overall mixed-use development around the stadium “is what we all should be scared of” in traffic terms, suggesting an ongoing traffic boost.

Many different solutions are in discussion. Tomlinson and Williams are working on expanding GRTA’s Xpress commuter bus service between Cobb and Perimeter Center. And Poole said the city continues to talk with Cobb about a potential bigger interchange at I-285 and Powers Ferry Road.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

2 replies on “Transportation experts talk BeltLine transit and Sandy Springs streetcar”

  1. WOW. You don’t have to look far to find another street car project that is an absolute disaster. Anyone even considering this idea should be removed from the discussion. Take away two lanes of traffic on Roswell road and replace with a street car….Really. Have you traveled on the ATLANTA Streetcar? There are plenty of other projects that you can waste our money on but don’t also make our commute worse.

  2. Right now, Sandy Springs doesn’t have enough population density along Roswell rd to justify a street car. Until that changes, there is no reason to put in a streetcar line. Plus, a streetcar line needs to connect popular locations together. What areas does the city want to connect? Sandy Springs is growing, so this may be a possibility in 15 to 20 years.

    In the near future, Sandy Springs could add a bus or shuttle service that connects the new City Center, Mercedes Benz HQ, and Perimeter together. The shuttle could travel along Roswell and Abernathy.

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