Atlanta BeltLine creator Ryan Gravel says Buckhead would benefit big-time from light-trail transit on the linear park amid concerns that a MARTA expansion plan will back-burner the trains or replace them with buses.

Ryan Gravel. (File/Dyana Bagby)

Gravel, the urban planner who envisioned the BeltLine as a master’s degree thesis, is leading a “BeltLine Rail Now” campaign for it to have rail and to make that transit plan a top priority for MARTA. He cited Piedmont Hospital as a big Buckhead institution that would benefit from BeltLine rail. Piedmont did not have a comment, but but another major hospital next door to it on Peachtree Road, the Shepherd Center, is publicly supporting the call for rail-based transit.

“The Atlanta BeltLine’s Northside [segment] connects growing but traffic-jammed Piedmont Hospital directly into the MARTA rail network to the east and into fast-growing communities for its workforce to the west,” Gravel said in an email. “For Buckhead, this makes a car-free way of life possible for employees at Piedmont and others along this booming stretch of Peachtree.”

Another reason Buckhead BeltLine rail matters, says Gravel: regional connections to Cobb County via the Tilford rail yard in northwest Atlanta and to Emory University via the planned “Clifton Corridor” light rail.

“For the region, the Atlanta Beltline’s Northside makes a strategic connection between the future Clifton/Emory line and the Tilford Yard route up to Cumberland/Galleria,” he said, offering a map he made of the potential transit links.

A map, created by BeltLine planner and BeltLine Rail Now advocate Ryan Gravel, showing the threatened BeltLine rail transit in pink and how it could connect to Cobb County and Emory University. The green lines show the segments of BeltLine rail that are currently included in the “More MARTA” expansion plan.

The BeltLine is a linear park, multiuse trail and transit system being built in a ring around Atlanta along old railroad corridors. The currently open sections only include the park and trail parts, and there is concern MARTA will not built the light-rail trains. And that Clifton Corridor is one reason the BeltLine plan is threatened.

The backdrop is debate over “More MARTA,” an expansion of MARTA’s transit service within the city of Atlanta that is funded by a half-penny sales tax. Approved by voters in 2016, the tax is expected to generate nearly $2.5 billion for transit expansion over the next 40 years.

The “More MARTA” tax was approved with a proposed list of projects. Some of the biggest ones involved southeastern Buckhead, including constructing light rail on the BeltLine; building the new Clifton Corridor light rail line between Lindbergh Center and Avondale stations through the Emory University area; and adding a new station on the Gold and Red lines at Buckhead’s Armour Yard, offering connections to the BeltLine and Amtrak.

Now that the tax is in place, MARTA says it can’t afford all of the projects —the Armour Yard station is among the casualties —- and is debating construction priority on others. Major controversy has erupted over MARTA’s plan to prioritize the Clifton Corridor and delay BeltLine rail or even change it into bus service or something else. The controversy has caused MARTA to delay a vote of its board on a final project until early October, though an official public comment deadline was still set for Aug. 31.

The dark gray line in this map shows the corridor of the future Atlanta BeltLine Northside segment through southern Buckhead. (Atlanta BeltLine Inc.)

Rail is still on the list for a small section of the BeltLine that would come into the Lindbergh Center area, but even that is in doubt now, and the plan does not include immediate work on rail on most of the BeltLine, including a large section that would run roughly east-west through southern Buckhead.

The “BeltLine Rail Now” campaign also calls for restoring the Armour Yard station to the mix.

Other “More MARTA” projects for Buckhead on the original list are still slated to happen. They mostly involve bus service upgrades intended to mean faster travel times on Peachtree Street/Road and Northside Drive. The North Buckhead Civic Association has called for more transit improvements in its neighborhood.

For more information about the “More MARTA” expansion, see its website here. For more information about the “BeltLine Rail Now” campaign and a related petition, see its website here.

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