Another system of rapid buses, as opposed to commuter rail, appears to be bound for metro Atlanta’s southside.

MARTA on Thursday made its plans official to switch from a planned rail line to a bus-rapid transit system, or BRT, for what’s known as the State Route 54 line.

The BRT route would span roughly 22 miles with 17 stops, branching from MARTA’s East Point rail station to Clayton County destinations such as Mountain View, Forest Park, Clayton State University, Jonesboro, the Clayton County Justice Center, and Lovejoy.

That line would join another BRT route that’s closer to construction as a link between Clayton’s Southlake Mall and College Park (see above map), with quick airport access.

MARTA officials say the BRT options can be built much quicker and will provide faster, more frequent service at a fraction of rail’s cost.

Government leaders across Clayton County appear to be on board.

According to MARTA, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, and city councilmembers in Jonesboro, Forest Park, Lovejoy, Riverdale, and Lake City have all voted to unanimously support the switch from rail to buses.

That persuaded MARTA’s board of directors of planning and capital programs committee to update the Locally Preferred Alternative, or LPA, for State Route 54 to a BRT plan last week.

Back in 2018, MARTA adopted another LPA that favored commuter rail lines using Norfolk Southern railroad corridor right-of-way to help link Clayton County residents into Atlanta, and vice versa. That option “encountered a variety of obstacles with right-of-way acquisition, environmental and historical resource concerns, along with a ballooning cost estimate,” according to MARTA.

Rail lines in Clayton County would have provided only one-way service during peak commuter times, whereas BRT is capable of bringing all-day, frequent service, per MARTA officials.

As of today, the State Route 54 BRT system is estimated to cost $572 million to build. MARTA says it will require less right-of-way access and will cut back on construction impacts to residents and businesses. BRT can also be built in half the time as commuter rail, according to MARTA.

The agency’s full board of directors is expected to vote on the LPA for State Route 54 at its December meeting.

Meanwhile, MARTA has said its goal is to begin construction on the Clayton Southlake BRT system by mid-2024 and launch operations in 2026. That route will span 15 miles—potentially with transit-oriented developments near a dozen of its stations.

MARTA and Clayton County heads recently trekked to Indianapolis to see BRT in action as part of that city’s IndyGo system, which connects urban areas. Judging by YouTube highlights, the trip was enlightening.

Clayton County news, discussion (Urbanize Atlanta)