Despite an outcry from opponents concerned it might be noisy, cause traffic, and muck up the Eastside Trail’s charms with a system that’s already clunky, the Atlanta Streetcar’s eastward extension from downtown to Ponce City Market is officially moving forward.

Now comes the hard part.

MARTA’s board of directors on Thursday unanimously approved (8-0) a formal measure to advance the Atlanta Streetcar extension to its final design phase, the next step in bringing the current 2.7-mile downtown loop to the BeltLine and PCM, with five stops in between. Supporters feel the extension will provide a more equitable transit option and make good on multimodal promises the BeltLine has made since inception.

As the AJC reports, two MARTA board members abstained from voting, while others questioned whether the $230-million expansion is wise, though Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and other MARTA officials have consistently backed the project.

The stop nearest to the BeltLine corridor in Old Fourth Ward. Kimley-Horn/MARTA 2040; via Vimeo

A growing contingent—including ardent BeltLine rail supporters—are concerned that rising costs and inflation will detract from what sort of streetcar expansion is ultimately built, possibly resulting in a system that moves people but is underwhelming from aesthetic and functionality standpoints. (Think: concrete rail beds and metal fencing instead of grass and shrubs). Outspoken critics have asked MARTA to consider autonomous vehicles or other transit alternatives on the Eastside Trail—and to halt the expansion until a city-ordered audit of MARTA’s recent spending is complete, as the AJC relays.

In any case, MARTA says the streetcar’s downtown-to-PCM design is 30 percent finished now, with work on the final design expected to commence in July. (In the interim, MARTA expects to solicit proposals from and hire an outside design company.) Construction is scheduled to begin sometime next year, with the first passengers boarding in 2027.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority

In related news, MARTA and the City of Atlanta have scheduled three public forums this month to discuss the controversial More MARTA Atlanta Program—the funding mechanism for the streetcar’s extension—that would see expansion projects built with a half-penny sales tax approved by Atlanta voters in 2016.  

In-person More MARTA updates are scheduled Tuesday, April 18 (at Sylvan Middle School) and Thursday, April 20 (at Midtown’s All Saints Episcopal Church). A virtual meeting is on tap for next Wednesday, too. All meetings begin at 6 p.m. (Find more details here.)

According to MARTA, the three sessions will detail the recently updated sequencing for the first tier of More MARTA projects, which the agency hopes to deliver by 2028. A history of the tax-funded program will also be detailed.   

MARTA says all tier one projects are progressing as scheduled in the previous sequencing. The exception is Clifton Corridor transit, which “has advanced more rapidly than originally planned due to the mode change from light rail to bus rapid transit and the segmented nature of the project,” per the agency. A recap of what’s planned in the first tier:

Summerhill bus rapid transit (BRT)

Cleveland Avenue arterial rapid transit (ART)

Metropolitan Avenue ART

Bankhead Station platform extension

Streetcar East extension

Five Points Station transformation

Campbellton Road BRT

Greenbriar Transit Center

Clifton Corridor BRT

Enhanced bus service citywide

Transit improvements on two crucial intown corridors—North Avenue BRT and Peachtree Road ART—have been bumped to the second tier, to deliver sometime in the future, per MARTA. Others in that category include:

Northside Drive BRT

Streetcar West extension

BeltLine NE, SE, SW, and West segments

Moores Mill Transit Center

Vine City Station upgrades


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