First, the somewhat discouraging news: MARTA officials revealed this week the agency’s long-discussed Clifton Corridor transit line likely won’t be operational for half a decade, at least.  

Specifically, the link between MARTA’s Lindbergh Center station, through jobs meccas Emory University and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention campuses, and on to the Decatur area isn’t expected to be operational until roughly 2028, in a best-case scenario, or 2036, the transit agency estimates.

On the bright side, what that major transportation project—a planned relief valve for traffic in growing areas as Atlanta’s population continues to swell—might look like is beginning to come into clearer focus.

Ten options for Clifton Corridor transit types and routes laid out by MARTA last summer have been whittled to three, as the AJC reports.

Two would involve buses, the other light rail. All would link MARTA’s Lindbergh and Avondale stations, a distance of about eight miles.  

Specifics of each route are very much TBD and subject to change following public input in coming months. One option generally calls for a bus-rapid transit route running from Lindbergh to Avondale; another BRT option would take that same path but add a second “arterial rapid transit” spur to Decatur, putting buses in regular traffic for a stretch on Clairemont Avenue but still saving time versus regular bus service.

The light-rail option would also be a link between the Lindbergh and Avondale stations, a connective tissue between MARTA’s Gold and Red heavy-rail lines.

MARTA’s plans call for building the majority of either transit route in CSX railroad right-of-way—saving construction time and money—after the railroad company reversed its stance against allowing passenger service near its rail lines. Local streets would also be used. 

MARTA has said rail service would be substantially quicker in traveling the Clifton route (15 to 26 minutes total) versus BRT (20 to 30 minutes).

But BRT could be built about three years faster than rail (five to seven years for buses; eight to 10 for rail) and at a fraction of the cost (up to $860 million versus $3.1 billion), according to the AJC

Josh Rowan, MARTA’s deputy general manager of capital programs, expansion, and innovation, stressed that each Clifton Corridor transit option would achieve the broader goal of relieving vehicle congestion as metro Atlanta packs on millions of more residents. “We certainly don’t want to get over-focused on mode, because it really is about moving people and shifting out of the [private] vehicles, and so this is a great project,” said Rowan, as Saporta Report relayed this week.

Prior to design phases and applications for federal funding, MARTA’s next step for the Clifton Corridor initiative is to gather more feedback. A Zoom meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday on the topic, to publicly weight all three transit options. (Find the Zoom registration link here.)

MARTA officials expect to choose a preferred Clifton Corridor transit option early next year.

Within city limits, MARTA is also formulating plans to expand transit on the west, south, and east sides of downtown.

Those projects include BRT systems in Southwest Atlanta along Campbellton Road and another from downtown, through Summerhill, to the BeltLine’s Southside Trail. MARTA also hopes to debut an expanded streetcar system between Sweet Auburn and Ponce City Market in 2027.

In other transportation-related news, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has appointed a permanent Atlanta Department of Transportation commissioner to fill the role vacated in July by MARTA’s Rowan.

Solomon Caviness, IV, a Southwest Atlanta native, will step in as the city’s second ATLDOT commish, effective Jan. 3. It’s a position close to Dickens’ heart, who as a member of city council commissioned a feasibility study of Atlanta transportation infrastructure in 2017 that led to ATLDOT’s creation two years later.

Caviness most recently served as head of Middlesex County Department of Transportation in New Brunswick, New Jersey, overseeing that county’s Office of Engineering, Office of Planning, Public Works, and the Middlesex County Area Transit (MCAT) service. He managed projects to ensure the New Jersey departments met priority goals, objectives, and timelines, according to an announcement from Dickens’ office today.

Caviness has also served as special projects manager for the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority.

He holds a bachelors degree in civil engineering from North Carolina A&T State University; a masters in civil engineering-transportation from the University of Tennessee; and an MBA from NYU’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

Caviness is taking ATLDOT’s helm at a crucial time. Earlier this year, voters approved a historic $750 million Moving Atlanta Forward infrastructure package, and the bulk of that funding—$460 million—is earmarked for transportation investments. Those are scheduled to include protected bike lanes, street repairs, improved sidewalks and trails, safe street projects, and more.

“This is an opportunity to advance world-class transportation programs that improve the quality of life for so many,” Caviness said in a prepared statement. “Atlanta holds a special place in my heart as it shaped my personal story, and this appointment is an opportunity of a lifetime."

Added Dickens: “[Caviness] shares our administration’s vision for smarter, more efficient government that delivers transportation projects—large, small, and in between—in a manner that ensures Atlanta is a more livable and more accessible city.”

Skyrocketing costs, inexperience delay MARTA's first new transit line (Urbanize Atlanta)