Proponents of light-rail transit on the Atlanta BeltLine are planning to show up en masse downtown Friday in hopes of calling attention to their cause and reminding the city’s mayor of campaign promises that forecasted a brighter, more equitable future with BeltLine rail.

It’s another sign the BeltLine rail debate is heating up during crucial months in 2024, as MARTA and BeltLine leaders set plans in motion for extending today’s streetcar loop to Ponce City Market via the Eastside Trail.

Nonprofit advocacy group BeltLine Rail Now has scheduled the rally from noon to 12:45 p.m. Friday at the steps of Atlanta City Hall on Mitchell Street. [CORRECTION: 2:59 p.m., March 20: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect start time for Friday's event.]

According to BRN, schedule speakers include former Atlanta City Council president (and early BeltLine champion) Cathy Woolard, citizen activist and equity expert Dr. Lawrence Miller, BRN’s president Matthew Rao, and longtime Atlanta transit activist Angel Poventud.

The rally’s goal, according to BRN leaders, is to provide a stage for Atlanta’s rail supporters to be heard ahead of Mayor Andre Dickens’ annual State of the City address on Wednesday.

“BRN and citizens who elected [Dickens] as Atlanta’s ‘Transit Mayor’ hope that he will accelerate the project and take a stronger public stand in favor of moving quickly to build the Streetcar East Extension,” reads a media release announcing the Friday rally. “Dickens garnered huge support for his candidacy from rail proponents because of his repeated and strong assurances, both in writing and verbally, that he supported BeltLine rail.”

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

The gathering would follow a March 12 event held in Inman Park that saw about 200 residents hashing out the prospects of rail on the 22-mile loop—most of them being against the idea, according to the AJC—but few fireworks.  

Meanwhile, BRN’s formal opposition, Better Atlanta Transit, continues to call for BeltLine rail alternatives such as micro transit and insist that transit funding for the pricey rail extension would be better spent elsewhere in the city. BAT leadership is distributing their own interpretation (and unsavory renderings) for a trail-meets-rail project they contend the majority of Atlantans don’t want.  

BeltLine CEO and president Clyde Higgs told reporters earlier this month that designs for the downtown-Ponce City Market streetcar extension remain just 30 percent completed—meaning, on the bright side, there’s still time for citizen input to help shape the project.

Meanwhile, MARTA has compiled a preliminary land-acquisition blueprint for how to make the extension a reality, identifying land for utilities, stations, and tracks needed to bring the light-rail system eastward. The transit agency is working to secure the needed land through purchases and easements, with eminent domain being a last resort.

Last summer MARTA picked HDR, an architecture and engineering firm, to complete final designs for the project. The two-mile route would 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.

MARTA’s revised outlook calls for breaking sometime next year and collecting the first streetcar extension fares from passengers in 2028. MARTA officials estimate the extension’s cost will be $230 million at least.


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BeltLine news, discussion (Urbanize Atlanta)