By Eden Landow for Virginia-Highland/Druid Hills Patch
Neighborhood groups involved in planning for a MARTA expansion through the Clifton Corridor say residents are worried they might not be adequately compensated for their property or that the right-of-way would extend virtually to their doorsteps and harm their quality of life.
The public got another chance Wednesday night to comment on a proposed $1 billion project to expand MARTA rail through the Clifton corridor and link Lindbergh Center with Emory, the CDC, Decatur and Avondale.
The latest configuration proposes heavy rail, including some underground tracks, from Lindbergh Center to the intersection of Clairmont and North Decatur roads and then light rail or bus rapid to the Avondale MARTA station. Three possibilities were detailed among the presentations up for comment.
Jason Morgan, regional planner for MARTA and project manager for the Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative, said Wednesday night’s Station Area Planning and Alignment Workshop, held at Torah Day School of Atlanta, concludes the public meetings that will be held during the Alternative Analysis phase of the project development process.
“It’s important that people’s concerns are documented at this stage so they can be flagged for inclusion in the environmental process and then we can be ready to mitigate them,” Morgan said.
Three previous formal public-input meetings were held, including this one, two last year and one in May. In addition, several community meetings have been held, including one called by the Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition on July 12 that was attended by more than 200 people.
Neighborhood groups involved in the Clifton Corridor transit development process, so far, have included Morningside/Lenox Park Neighbhorhood Association, Lindridge/Martin Manor Neighborhood Association and Woodland Hills Neighborhood Association.
Planners had explored at-grade options including light rail and bus rapid transit and to utilize the CSX right-of-way, but neighborhood concerns, development density and refusal by CSX to share their space, open up the possibility for subterranean tracks.
Rather than blasting, Morgan said, builders would use a tunnel-boring machine.
“We want to avoid the ‘cut-and-cover’ method, which involves a lot of disruption, which is what we’re trying to avoid,” he said.
LLCC and Lenox Park/Morningside have hired consultant Perkins+Will’s Urban Design practice and their senior transportation planner, Heather Alhadeff, to assist them in getting their concerns heard.
“I am here to coordinate, advise and manage the dialogue between MARTA and their partner, CCTMA, and the neighborhoods,” said Aldaheff, “to communicate things in a meaningful, understandable and productive way, in both directions.”
MARTA and CCTMA boards are expected to vote in November on the proposal, which would send the process to the environmental stage, during which historic and ecological studies would be made, as well as impact studies on what effect would be felt by property owners. Once the environmental stage is cleared, the process moves on to preliminary engineering and then the final design stage.
All four stages of the development process must include public input as well as local and federal approval, Morgan said.
On Thursday, the Atlanta Regional Roundtable’s executive committee meets to adopt a list of transit priorities in the Atlanta region, which will be reviewed and approved by the full roundtable before going to voters as part of the statewide referendum in July or November called the Transportation Investment Act.
“We are trying to position the project so that it will qualify for any federal funds that might be available,” Morgan said, “regardless of what happens with TIA.”
This part of MARTA’s planning process began in 2009. Construction is likely to take upwards of 10 years, unless TIA passes, in which case, Morgan said, the process would speed up by a year or even two.
On one side of the room were posters and flipcharts for community comments on MARTA proposals for heavy rail from Lindbergh Center, through the Emory campus to the intersection of North Decatur and Clairmont roads, then bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail (LRT) along Scott Boulevard and then to the Avondale MARTA station. Linking to the Decatur MARTA station, for the moment, appeared to be off the table.
Also off the table seemed to be utilizing the right-of-way held by CSX railroad, though one of the planners at the meeting speculated that, once funding is identified and the project moves closer to being a reality, that the company might be willing to discuss the possibility.
On the other side of the room were placards describing how the stations might be designed for optimal entrance and access and amenities.
“We’re trying to find the right balance between having stations placed far enough apart that the trains can move faster, yet making sure we have enough stations so that people can get where they need to go,” Morgan said.
Ridership estimates were included on the posters, indicating that in 2030 about 27,000 “boardings,” or the number of people getting on the train at any given station along the way, each would be expected for heavy rail, about 17,000 for light rail and about 11,000 for bus rapid transit.
“None of the expansion projects could be done the way things are structured now,” said MARTA spokesman Lyle Harris. “Federal funds require that operating funds be available. The current ’50-50′ funding structure probably needs to be revisited.”
Also attending the meeting was DeKalb Commissioner Jeff Rader, who said he did not feel he had a direct role in this portion of the process but that these types of improvements could substantially reduce automobile traffic in his district and the impact of the traffic.
Later, he said, the DeKalb Commission would likely weigh in on land use and development proposals along the corridor.
“I haven’t heard anyone here say that we don’t need transit,” Rader said. “It’s just a matter of how we can get there.”
MARTA also is in the alternatives analysis phase of an expansion plan for an I-20 East Corridor to serve south DeKalb.