MARTA’s quest to expand downtown’s streetcar system toward two of intown Atlanta’s biggest economic drivers and tourist attractions has taken a key step forward, officials announced today.

MARTA’s Board of Directors and Capital Programs Committee has picked a team led by HDR, an architecture and engineering firm, to complete final designs for what’s called the Streetcar East Extension.

According to MARTA’s finalized alignment plans, the two-mile route will bring the streetcar along Edgewood Avenue, Randolph Street, Auburn Avenue, and Irwin Street into the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail corridor and extend it to Ponce City Market’s doorstep, with five new stops in between.

HDR won the local streetcar expansion job for its “extensive experience with streetcar projects, having provided engineering, architectural, environmental, and construction work on streetcar projects in over 30 cities in North America,” according to a MARTA announcement.

Elsewhere in Atlanta, HDR’s recent work includes lead designs on functional, beautiful Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Vine City, which could be an encouraging sign.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority

Moving the streetcar extension project into final designs is “a critical milestone” as MARTA focuses on delivering nine priority projects by 2028 that were pinpointed in the agency’s resequencing process earlier this year, MARTA’s chief capital officer, Carrie Rocha, said in a prepared statement.

That revised priorities list—necessitated by rising costs, according to MARTA—was met with no shortage of public disdain. But the most concrete sign of progress in years came last week, when MARTA broke ground on the city’s first bus-rapid transit line in Summerhill.

Supporters feel expanding the current 2.7-mile, downtown streetcar loop will provide a more equitable transit option and make good on multimodal promises the BeltLine has made since inception. Opponents are concerned it will be noisy, cause traffic jams, and muck up the Eastside Trail’s charms with a system that’s already clunky.

How the planned Atlanta Streetcar extension's Ralph McGill stop could relate to Fourth Ward Project's offices, per an earlier study. Kimley-Horn/MARTA 2040; via Vimeo

Both sides have raised concerns 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).

MARTA has recently moved the goalposts on the $230-million Streetcar East Extension’s potential delivery.

The agency now estimates the project will be under construction in 2025 with first passengers boarding in 2028—a year later than previously expected, on both accounts.

Where a crossing would be placed just east of Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall. Kimley-Horn/MARTA 2040; via Vimeo


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