MARTA faces new trial with I-85 bridge collapse

ATLANTA — MARTA’s general manager said the transit agency has increased bus and rail service following the Interstate 85 bridge collapse, but he's not certain how long it can sustain the pace.

Like several public agencies, the next few months will be a trial for MARTA.

Nearly 21 years ago, it faced and passed another major test. But this time is different.

The 1996 Olympics took control of downtown Atlanta like nothing before.

For 16 days in July and August that year, MARTA shouldered the transit burden, carrying a total of 25 million passengers on 1,000 buses and 200 rail cars.

It was a big win in the face of a known and limited challenge.

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But now, the agency faces a far bigger challenge.

“We'll make sure that we plan accordingly for the long haul, especially after what I heard here. But this is a matter for months than it is a few days or weeks,” MARTA general manager Keith Parker told Channel 2’s Richard Belcher after the sobering appraisal from the Georgia Department of Transportation that it will take several months to restore the stretch of I-85 that carries nearly 250,000 vehicles daily.

Parker said the agency is running trains every 7-8 minutes in suburban areas, every five minutes in the city, an increase in capacity of 20 percent or more.

He said ridership spiked 25 percent Friday morning alone.

[Officials say I-85 bridge repairs will take months]

“We will run at a heightened level of service throughout the weekend, and then do a reassessment early Sunday evening to determine what Monday through Friday will look like,” Parker said. “But there will come a point if we try to keep too long of a period of sustained service, that we may have a manpower or staffing shortage.”

Passenger fares cover only about a third of the cost of the system, so will MARTA ask for emergency help from Washington?

[PHOTOS: I-85 bridge collapse aftermath]

“Yes, we will be seeking a level of reimbursement for the services we've provided,” Parker said.

Parker told Belcher it is too early to estimate how much financial help MARTA will need, but he said the agency has already been in touch with Georgia’s congressional delegation and the Federal Transit Administration.