Feb 8, 2022 - News

Atlanta councilmembers clash over MARTA's bus decision

Two buses travel in bus-only lanes painted red as a person rides in a bike lane and people walk on the sidewalks

A rendering of transit service on Campbellton Road. Image: Courtesy of MARTA

Southwest Atlanta residents and city councilmembers disagree with MARTA's decision to move forward with premium bus service — not light rail — for a long-awaited route along Campbellton Road.

Why it matters: Transit demand along Campbellton is already high — route 83, one of MARTA's busiest, serves more than 4,000 people daily— and the new line had been pitched to create jobs and spark redevelopment.

Catch up quick: Last week MARTA announced that bus rapid transit could cost cost $130 million to build — $200 million less than light rail. BRT would also be cheaper to operate and would serve just as many people (in almost the same amount of time) as light rail, MARTA planners say.

  • In addition, people who participated in public meetings said they slightly preferred BRT more, according to a statement the agency gave to Saporta Report.

City councilmembers including Marci Collier Overstreet, who represents the area, says that's not what the community's been promised for several years.

  • Overstreet and other councilmembers are holding a town hall at 5pm Tuesday at Mount Carmel Baptist Church to discuss the plans and "provide feedback so we can build equitable transit in our community," Overstreet said in a statement.

MARTA says it's aware of Overstreet's comments. It explained some of its BRT decision in an earlier statement.

Flashback: Overstreet points to discussions with MARTA dating to 2017, plus a fact sheet that included LRT along Campbellton Road. The community, she tells Axios, was promised a more than $315 million investment, and light rail was key to helping spark new development and jobs along the road.

What we're watching: Atlanta City Council this week supported calling MARTA to account for how it's spent, and plans to spend, funding for the Campbellton Road line. The cash comes from a sales tax Atlanta voters approved in 2016 for a $2.7 billion MARTA expansion in the city.

The big picture: Government officials aren't transit planners, and promising constituents steel over tires before studies are conducted can create false expectations, Kari Watkins, a Georgia Tech transportation professor, tells Axios Atlanta.

  • "It's not a good idea to promise modes," she says. "People get excited about the technology — and not the underlying service."
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