MARTA electric bus

UPDATE 2/4 7:27 p.m.: ADDS Clayton BRT route map

by Robin Kemp

MARTA says a $970 million transit study will give planners a roadmap for developing retail, affordable housing along the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line.

A closer look at BRT

MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher says construction is expected to start in 2024, with the first electric buses rolling out in 2026. Those buses would go out for bid, but would be similar to the New Flyer Xcelsior Charge NG electric buses that will start running on the Summerhill BRT route later this year. MARTA ordered six of the buses in January 2021.

“They will be battery-electric buses, not with an overhead catenary,” Fisher told The Clayton Crescent. “Charging infrastructure will be needed at the bus garage as well as on route and/or at route ends, [at] College Park Station and Southlake Mall.”

You won’t have to climb steps or wait for a lift to get on the bus: it’s on ground level, so you’ll just walk or roll right in. The electric buses get “signal priority” at traffic lights in their dedicated lanes, which means the light changes to let the bus through.

During peak times, Fisher said, the BRT bus would pass every ten minutes.

How BRT will change Clayton County

According to MARTA, the study will look at how to develop the area in conjunction with stormwater management and specific plans for each of the 12 proposed stops.

The idea, MARTA said in a press release, is to combine economic development with “access to healthcare, jobs, education, food, and affordable housing along the BRT corridor through northern Clayton and southern Fulton counties.”

The BRT line “is expected to save 20 minutes on the trip from Southlake Mall to College Park, serving Southern Regional Medical Center, Riverdale Town Center, and numerous apartment complexes and retail developments.”

For people who rely on public transportation, that’s a big deal.

It’s also a big deal for business. The Federal Transit Administration says that every dollar spent on transit yields $4 in economic returns and that transit lines increase nearby property values:

The study also “will also examine the land uses at the proposed stations and make recommendations to allow for the various jurisdictions to have a path, with MARTA, to remove some of the barriers to achieving the desired outcomes.” Specifically, the grant includes development of “a corridor-wide stormwater and resilience strategy.”

While all that sounds great on paper, what will it mean for people who use public transit?

Say you live in Morrow and work at Hartsfield-Jackson. (You may still have bad memories of the long wait between C-TRAN connections.) Right now, it takes almost an hour to get from Southlake Mall to the College Park Station, no matter which bus you catch or whether you hop on MARTA’s Southbound Gold Line at East Point Station (a transit-oriented development area). Carving 20 minutes off that trip, there and back, chops 40 minutes off of your daily commute.

Then there’s the development piece, which promises more housing and greater food availability along the route. While MARTA didn’t distinguish between restaurants, fast food, and grocery stores, building more housing along the BRT route could involve all of those options. The project offers a chance to ease food deserts if planners bring in grocery stores.

You can see exactly how long it would take to get from where you are to the MARTA stop (at either College Park or Southlake Mall) and travel to the other point by entering those destinations in MARTA’s trip planner at http://www.itsmarta.com/planatrip.aspx .

Where else can I ride BRT?

Fourteen cities in the U.S. have BRT lines serving 485,276 riders, according to globalbrtdata.org :

You’ll be able to try out BRT travel yourself around August 2024, when MARTA launches its first BRT in Summerhill. AXIOS’ Thomas Wheatley has more details about how these special buses will work. The system revolves around dedicated lanes that only those buses can use–no cars, no trucks, no motorcycles, just the rapid-transit bus.

You can learn more about the Summerhill project in this video of a virtual public meeting from October 6, 2021:

The Summerhill BRT will run up Hank Aaron Drive from the Beltline to Capitol Avenue and the Gold Dome, turn left on MLK Drive, go to Ted Turner Drive near the federal courthouse, then loop back on Mitchell Street towards Atlanta City Hall, right on Washington, left on Memorial, and then back south down Capitol Avenue and Hank Aaron Drive to the Beltline:

What’s the planning process?

MARTA notes that “The Clayton Southlake BRT project was recently granted entry into the Project Development phase of the FTA’s Capital Investment Grant (CIG) Program as a Small Starts Project.” According to Fisher, “The maximum award for Small Starts is $150M. There may be other federal funding sources that can support the project. The maximum federal share is 80%. While the maximum federal share is 80%, the current cost estimate for Clayton Southlake BRT is approximately $300 million, which means that with the maximum federal award of $150 million, the federal match on the project will be around 50%.”

Under the Small Starts Program, the project has to complete an environmental review, which is the first step in the development. That includes “developing and reviewing alternatives, selecting locally preferred alternative (LPA), and adopting it into fiscally constrained long range transportation plan.” The project then has to secure commitments for “non-5309 funding,” which means a 20% match. Next, the project goes through engineering and design.

After the environmental review process, the FTA evaluates the project and rates it. Once approved, the project gets a Construction Grant Agreement. Only then would construction on the new BRT route start.

What are your thoughts about the coming BRT line? If you live on the proposed route, how do you think it will impact your neighborhood or your commute? E-mail editor@claytoncrescent.org and we’ll follow up.

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