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Beltline transit advocates: Crucial deadline for trail rail looms; speak up now

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Current ARC plans call for just two miles of Beltline rail by 2030, transit proponents stress

A rendering showing a light rail train alongside the Atlanta Beltline trail and an old building.
An early concept for how rail might function where a now-finished Eastside Trail meets Memorial Drive. 
Atlanta Beltline

The year of grassroots activism for improved, alternate means of transportation in Atlanta continues.

So far, 2019 has seen rolling bike protests during rush hours on DeKalb Avenue, a human bike lane in Midtown in the wake of e-scooter tragedies, and an October march along the Beltline demanding a full buildout of transit along the planned 22-mile loop within the next decade.

The group that staged the latter rally—Beltline Rail Now!—has a new message: Plans for creating a full network of transit along the trail that would link dozens of neighborhoods by 2030 could hinge on bureaucratic decisions made in the next few weeks.

The metro’s 10-county planning agency, Atlanta Regional Commission, is required to deliver a 30-year transportation plan to federal government officials by a February deadline, outlining which local projects might deserve grants from the feds.

As of now, BRN! leaders stress, the ARC request calls for federal funding to help create just two miles of Beltline rail before 2030. That proposed section on the popular Eastside Trail would branch off an extension of the existing Atlanta Streetcar route—but the sheer amount of hypothetical new tracks is being called “unacceptable” by rail advocates.

The ARC lacks decision-making power when it comes to picking which transportation projects city leaders will back, but it does have considerable influence over the Atlanta City Council and MARTA. Federal funding the ARC will be lobbying for is, of course, crucial.

“If you want to see reliable rail transit on the Atlanta Beltline [across the city],” BRN! heads blasted via email this week, “the ARC needs to hear from you by December 13.”

Shown in renderings is a hypothetical train stop with grass and several people exercising.
A hypothetical train stop near Highland Avenue that rail advocates are pushing for.
Atlanta Beltline

Two forthcoming ARC meetings—a December 4 board meeting, and a December 13 Transportation Coordinating Committee meeting—will allow for public commentary of up to two minutes per person. (Both require signing up to speak beforehand.)

ARC officials will also be accepting public comments via email (opinion@atlantaregional.org) until December 13.

“Let them know you want to see Atlanta’s half-cent transit tax pay for projects that move Atlanta commuters,” advocates advised in the announcement. “Not a grab-bag of special-interest boondoggles.”

BRN! activism has paid dividends on Atlanta’s alternate transportation front before.

In the fall of 2018, MARTA’s board of directors approved a plan for spending some $2.7 billion to expand Atlanta’s transit network.

Thanks in part to BRN! efforts, more than $570 million of that is scheduled be used to eventually line 15 miles of the Beltline with light rail tracks—more than double the amount that’d been laid out in earlier plans.

A graphic showing planned rail line across Atlanta in yellow and red and green.
More MARTA program plans.
MARTA

The More MARTA plan officials approved in October 2018 included eight miles of two-way light rail lines on the northeast, southeast, and western parts of the Beltline.

That’s in addition to the previously planned seven miles: A three-mile light-rail link from Ponce City Market to the Lindbergh MARTA Station, plus four miles linking the Beltline’s southwestern leg with the Oakland City station.

“Your voice helped get Beltline rail back on track when our leaders decided they’d rather leave two-thirds of the loop as a glorified sidewalk,” BRN! heads opined this week. “They need to hear it again.”