MARTA’s planning committee has given the green light for the $230 million Atlanta Streetcar expansion to Ponce City Market, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday. The plan now goes to the full MARTA board.
The approval comes despite opposition from some who live and work along the expansion’s approximately 2-mile route from Downtown to the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail to Ponce City Market. They say construction for the expansion would harm their quality of life and create traffic congestion that would keep customers away from small businesses.
The extension would run nearly a mile down Edgewood Avenue, up to Randolph Street, along Auburn Avenue to Irwin Street where it will connect with the Eastside Trail. From Irwin Street, the streetcar route would continue about another mile north to Ponce City Market. Five stop locations are planned.
Construction is expected to begin next year and be completed by 2027, if the full MARTA board gives it its OK.
The streetcar expansion has been in the works for years to fulfill the vision of having light rail along the entire Beltline, a 22-mile multi-use path being built mostly along abandoned railroad tracks encircling the city’s urban core.
The project is to be funded by More MARTA funds. The More MARTA program is funded by a half-penny sales tax approved by Atlanta voters in 2016 specifically to build new rail, streetcar extensions, new bus lines and new stations.
The Atlanta City Council voted earlier this month to request an audit of the More MARTA program. More than six years after city voters approved the sales tax to generate some $2.7 billion over 40 years to fund transit expansion, MARTA is set to break ground this summer on just the first project — Summerhill bus rapid transit (BRT).
In 2018, the MARTA board of directors approved 17 capital projects to be paid for with More MARTA funds. MARTA CEO Collie Greenwood told the city council’s transportation committee, however, that rising costs and inflation have forced the agency to prioritize only nine projects between now and 2028. The remaining eight projects would be planned after 2028.
The nine priorities for MARTA are: the streetcar expansion, Summerhill BRT, Cleveland Avenue arterial rapid transit (ART), Metropolitan Parkway ART, Bankhead platform extension, Five Points station transformation, Campbellton Road BRT, Greenbriar transit center and Clifton Corridor BRT
MARTA officials have said the full list of More MARTA projects has never been fully funded.
“That was the case when the project list was created by Atlanta City Council and voted on by Atlanta voters in 2016, and was the case when the MARTA Board adopted the current list of projects in 2018,” according to a recent MARTA statement. “Most of the projects require federal funding for which MARTA will compete. By its very nature, competitive funding is not guaranteed.”
The council’s request for an audit initially angered MARTA officials. Greenwood sent a letter to Mayor Andre Dickens, City Council President Doug Shipman and the city council on March 29 saying “MARTA is an audit-friendly agency” and will work with the city to conduct a audit.