Residents participating in the new I-20 East Transit Oriented Development Strategic Plan say they want improvements – sooner than later.

About 100 people who live around six potential transit-oriented development sites – Indian Creek, Covington Highway, Wesley Chapel Road, Panola Road, Lithonia Industrial Boulevard, and the Mall at Stonecrest – told planners at an April 26 meeting that they want some of the improvements they see in Atlanta implemented in DeKalb County.

LeRoy Sampson, who lives a couple of miles from the Indian Creek MARTA station in Stone Mountain, said the area desperately needs transit-oriented development, which typically includes a mix of housing, office, retail and other amenities including walking paths and green space.

“I would like to see some of the sorts of things you see around Atlantic Station,” he told planners. “I know it’s a different economic status, but right now [the Indian Creek station] is kind of desolate and really oriented towards people just parking and getting on the train and nothing else.”

DeKalb County is partnering with MARTA to pave the way for more transit-oriented development along the I-20 East corridor between downtown Atlanta to the Mall at Stonecrest.   

Both have contributed to a $2 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to complete the I-20 East Transit Oriented Development Strategic Plan, which includes expanded train and bus services, new stations, and use of HOV lanes on I-20 to reduce traffic congestion and travel time.  

Through 2030, traffic congestion is expected to grow along the I-20 East corridor by about 64 percent, with a projected 26 percent increase in population and 46 percent growth in employment.

By then, peak hour travel times along the corridor will also be 16 minutes longer than the existing 50 to 66 minutes, and the trip to downtown is expected to exceed an hour.

Residents viewed maps of the planned development sites and shared their thoughts about existing issues and possible solutions during the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. meeting at the Lou Walker Senior Center on Panola Road in Lithonia.

Sampson told the planners that he only uses MARTA if he needs to go into downtown Atlanta, but that he would use it more if the service was improved.

He says transit-oriented development like shops, restaurants, walking paths, parks and public amenities  would attract more people and money around the Indian Creek station.

“It could stand to have some gentrification,” Sampson said. “It could stand to have some amenities there, rather than having to go to Northlake, downtown Atlanta, or downtown Decatur.”

Alicia Blakely, who has lived off Covington Highway for more than 10 years, also supports transit-oriented development in her neighborhood.

Blakely says she only uses MARTA when she has no other transport but that the buses don’t run on time and the service as a whole is not user-friendly.

“At nighttime, being a woman, it’s scary because there’s no security, not enough lighting or physical protection out there,” she said. “Unfortunately you’re worried about people being raped or mugged.”

Blakely said even small improvements like additional lighting around train stations, and garbage bins and shelters at all bus stops, would make a big difference.

“We want it now,” she said. “They’re going to have to do something because there’s a lot of people moving in here and they’re going to start complaining too.”

Audra Rojek, lead transportation planner at WSP, which is conducting the study, says there will be more opportunities for public involvement with the strategic plan.

“For one thing, we will hold open houses where the public can review the station area transit-oriented development frameworks once they have been developed,” she said.

Those meetings have not yet been scheduled, but residents can find up-to-date project information online.

The plan identifies expanded bus and train services along the I-20 East corridor, including  heavy rail to be expanded 12 miles from the Indian Creek station to the Mall at Stonecrest.

If constructed, the expanded train and bus services are expected to attract 28,000 daily riders, including 6,400 new daily users.

Capitol costs are expected to be $1.9 billion, with right of way costs totaling $110 million and annual operating and maintenance costs would be an additional $18 million.

The service would get riders from the Mall at Stonecrest to Five Points in 40 minutes.

It would include upgrades to the Indian Creek station and new train stations at Covington Highway, Wesley Chapel Road, Panola Road, Lithonia Industrial Boulevard, and the Mall at Stonecrest.

There would also be a new 12.8-mile bus rapid transit service along I-20 between from downtown Atlanta to a new Wesley Chapel Road station. 

The high-frequency, fixed-route, all-day service would utilize train stations and bus stops at Candler Road, Gresham Road, Glenwood Avenue, Glenwood Park and possibly Turner Field before ending at MARTA’s Five Points station.

For more information about the I-20 East Transit Oriented Development Strategic Plan, visit www.itsmarta.com/i20-east-corridor-overview.aspx.