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More MARTA votes are in: Beltline rail, Clifton Corridor are most sought projects

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Meanwhile, some activists claim the transit agency’s questions helped stack the deck against full-loop Beltline transit

In less than a month, MARTA’s board of directors will convene to determine how more than $2 billion of tax cash will be spent to expand Atlanta’s transit network.

On Friday, MARTA unveiled the results of an online survey that asked Atlantans—and some metro Atlantans—how they’d like to see More MARTA sales tax funds divvied up.

The stats show the most support for three big projects:

One initiative would include the buildout of streetcar tracks on a northeast arc of the Beltline; another would do the same for the southwest side of the multi-use trail; and the third would call for the creation of a light rail line stretching from MARTA’s Lindbergh Station to Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latter plan, called the Clifton Corridor, has been a cause for controversy regarding the use of tax monies.

Some activists say spending the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to bring Clifton Corridor rail to life would be better spent on wrapping a full circuit of streetcar lines around the Atlanta Beltline’s future 22-mile loop.

Some of those activists, such as the urbanists at ThreadATL, contend that MARTA’s survey was crafted in a way that guaranteed support for full Beltline transit would be subdued: Asking if people support only two pieces of the light rail loop all but ensures the Clifton Corridor would be among the three most favored choices, the argument goes.

Updated at 11:45 a.m.: A statement sent by a MARTA spokesman said the recent survey was designed to collect input regarding the current proposed project list, which calls for just seven miles of light rail along the Beltline—the combined length of the northeast and southwest transit lines.

Meanwhile, Emory officials are applauding the survey results.

“Atlantans recognize that the Clifton Corridor is a priority for this city, connecting all residents to a thriving economic, educational, and healthcare hub,” said Betty Willis, senior associate vice president for Emory’s government and community affairs department, in a statement.

She continued: “Based on existing jobs in the corridor and overall readiness of the project, the Clifton Corridor is well positioned to compete against other projects nationally for federal funding, and is on track to be the first step in making Atlanta’s dream of an integrated transit network a reality.”

The Beltline has long planned to wrap a light rail transit system around the multi-use trail.
Atlanta Beltline Inc.

Granted, no one is actively lobbying against the Clifton Corridor project—it would connect MARTA users with jobs to the east—but when Atlanta voters okayed the More MARTA sales tax in a 2016 referendum, much of the proposed transit line wasn’t even part of the city.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Darin Givens, of ThreadATL. “The full loop is what people have said they want. Prior to the referendum vote, there was an online survey with over 4,000 responses. The language used was ‘Beltline loop [transit],’ and that option was voted the most popular.”

With more than 7,000 votes cast in MARTA’s survey, the Clifton Corridor came out on top with 3,607 people saying the project was one of their top three priorities for the tax cash spending.

Light rail along the northeast corner of the Beltline came in as a close second, with 3,572 votes. And the Beltline’s southwest transit piece claimed 2,600 votes.

However, if only counting the votes cast by residents of Atlanta proper, Beltline rail on the northeast corridor took the cake—with 2,798 votes of the 5,240-vote total—as most popular on the list.

The plans that garnered the fewest votes included Capitol Avenue bus rapid transit, Cleveland Avenue arterial rapid transit, and a Moores Mill transit center project.

As Atlantan-only votes go, each of those three claimed less than 300 votes each.

The MARTA board is expected to vote on the entire list of project plans during its October 4 meeting.

And since there are no board meetings before then, and because the online survey has concluded, little to no more public input will be taken into account before the final decision.

Updated on September 10 at 11:45 a.m.: A MARTA spokesman shared the following statement with Curbed Atlanta:

“Segments of the 22-mile loop were candidate projects, along with several other transit projects, leading up to the November 2016 referendum. Therefore, the entire 22-mile loop has always been a candidate project for the More MARTA Atlanta program.

“However, based on public feedback received prior to the election and throughout 2017, along with an evaluation of criteria as framed by nine guiding principles agreed to by the City of Atlanta and MARTA, connections via and to the northeastern and southwestern sections of the city of Atlanta were identified as projects for the proposed program. These projects contribute to building a connected system of transit alternatives as part of the proposed program.

“The Atlanta Beltline section identified in the proposed project list accounts for approximately seven miles of the 22-mile loop.

“The most recent More MARTA Atlanta survey was created to obtain additional feedback on the proposed project list. Additionally, respondents were provided an opportunity to share their comments on the proposed program or even individual projects. We received many open-ended comments, including those who support the 22-mile LRT loop along the Beltline.”

Emory University

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