Broken promises? Neighbors question why MARTA wants buses instead of rail

ATLANTA — MARTA is on the verge of a series of major expansions across metro Atlanta.

But neighbors in one area who voted for a tax increase to help fund the new transit, are questioning if they got what they paid for.

MARTA is pushing for new buses, instead of the rail lines it originally proposed in a 2018 plan.

It feels like a broken promise to some along Campbellton Road in Southwest Atlanta.

“It’s just the bare minimum,” Tiffany Powell said.

“Why must we get a cheaper investment when we could get the best investment,” Moona Mohammed said.

MARTA is beginning a once-in-a-generation expansion.

But while early plans in 2018 -- and projects listed when Atlanta residents passed a half a penny transportation sales tax in 2016 called for light rail -- MARTA staff now are recommending bus rapid transit for the new MARTA corridor instead.

MARTA told Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray that bus rapid transit is something new for Atlanta and does not look like traditional bus routes you are used to.

“The bus rapid transit comes with all the amenities that a train does and it’s just as permanent as well. It’s not a signpost in the ground,” MARTA’s Manjeet Ranu said.

RELATED STORIES:

MARTA leaders say the BRT would have stations just like light rail. And unlike the Atlanta Streetcar, the BRT would have a dedicated lane.

“Bus rapid transit or BRT is not like or the regular bus. It operates a lot like a train,” Ranu said.

What is currently a 30-minute trip for the 6-mile route up Campbellton Road, would be cut to 18 minutes with BRT, similar to the 16-minute trip if the choice was light rail.

“Really is just the vehicle itself is the main difference between the two,” MARTA Project Manager Marcus Arnold said.

But it was a tough sell to a skeptical audience at a neighborhood meeting last week.

“The penny tax is passed, they’re getting the money, but Campbellton Road is not getting what was a part of the plan,” Mohammad said.

So why the switch from light rail to bus?

First, understand that MARTA was never planning on train expansion. That’s heavy rail.

Light rail looks like the Atlanta Streetcar.

MARTA leaders told Gray that bus rapid transit is significantly less expensive than light rail -- $130 million compared to $340 million -- for Campbellton Road and can be built faster, and with less disruption.

“The mode that we have here Bus Rapid Transit allows us to make a more comprehensive investment rather than the singular investment in rail,” Ranu said.

But the area’s city councilwoman, Marci Collier Overstreet, has been concerned about what that investment will look like.

“No, I did not envision Bus Rapid Transit at all,” Overstreet said.

Overstreet said MARTA has added more money to stations and other amenities since the original, more limited plans she saw in February.

“The investment was the most important thing to me,” Overstreet said.

While the MARTA board could still choose a different path when it votes July 14, it appears the bus has left the station.

MARTA staff has recommended BRT and the planning committee signed off on it last week.

“They’re not asking our opinion. They’ve already made the decision,” Powell said.

Campbellton Road residents say they are still most concerned about making sure there is a lasting investment and there is equity compared to other parts of the city.

“My biggest fear was that there’s a bus on Campbellton Road and there’s a train everywhere else,” Overstreet said.

MARTA leaders said they make the decisions on each transit line individually so they will decide separately on rail or bus for Clifton Road and Emory University in the northern part of the city at a later date.

MARTA staff are making it clear after originally pitching 29 miles of new light rail, they now see bus rapid transit as a solution on all corridors telling Channel 2 Action News that it is the mode of transit most likely to get critical federal matching dollars.

RELATED NEWS: