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Major MARTA Expansion Could Transform the Atlanta Region

1:06 PM PDT on July 22, 2015

MARTA hopes to expand its rail service in Fulton and DeKalb Counties. Image: ##http://wabe.org/post/8b-marta-rail-expansion-proposal-explained##ItsMARTA via WABE##
MARTA hopes to expand its rail service in Fulton and DeKalb Counties. Map: ItsMARTA via WABE
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Transit planners in the Atlanta area are getting serious about the largest expansion in MARTA's history. MARTA officials have proposed new, high-capacity service into North Fulton County and east into DeKalb County that could link important job centers by rail for the first time. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says it could “change the face of Atlanta."

The new rail service would finally connect residential areas to the rapidly growing area encompassing Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control, just east of the city limits. It would also extend all the way north to Alpharetta, a booming business center 25 miles north of Atlanta in Fulton County.

Officials from Cobb County, just west of Fulton, have long resisted and even ridiculed the idea of bringing transit access there, and Gwinnett County to the east is too low-slung and suburban to consider rail service at this point. But Fulton's charge ahead into a more urban future could cause its neighbors to reconsider their ways.

MARTA Board Chair Robbie Ashe says the transit expansion could propel a new model of growth in the region. “Corporations are increasingly demanding immediate proximity to transit stations,” Ashe told the AJC. “State Farm did it when they came here. Mercedes did it. Worldpay did it when it relocated. Kaiser is going to be located two blocks from here because of the Arts Center Station.”

Best of all, according to Darin Givens who blogs at ATL Urbanist, these new stations, even the ones far out in the suburbs, are likely to be surrounded by transit-oriented development rather than park-n-rides.

“MARTA has now accepted that it’s time to undo its park-n-rides,” Givens said. “They’re trying to turn all these park-n-ride lots around MARTA stations -- around a lot of them -- into transit-oriented development.”

The agency hasn’t released any proposals for developing the areas near the new stations, but Givens is hopeful that they’ll be surrounded by walkable, mixed-use development. “MARTA leadership understands that the way of the future for MARTA, and for Atlanta, is to build in a new way around these MARTA stations that allows people to walk to them,” he said.

The agency would need Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton counties to agree to a half-penny sales tax to fund the expansion. The counties already have state permission to ask residents to tax themselves, but only for five years. MARTA is petitioning the state to allow a much longer sunset of 42 years. They’ll also need special permission for the revenues to be directed to the transit agency.

It’s unclear why Clayton would be taxed. The county doesn’t get any new service in the most recent proposal and it just approved a full-penny sales tax last fall to be included in the MARTA network for the first time.

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