The board voted to seek federal money for a heavy rail extension from the Indian Creek station to the mall.
The I-20 East “Locally Preferred Alternative” plan includes nine new stations – four bus rapid transit and five heavy rail transit – with an optional station at Turner Field; 12-mile HRT and 12.8-mile BRT; a 40-minute travel time from Stonecrest to Five Points; and a 48-minute travel time from Stonecrest to the Arts Center.
Daily boarding is estimated to be 28,700 by 2030, an increase of 6,400 new riders. The project’s capital cost would be $2 billion and its annual operating cost would be $18 million.
The board also approved a plan to seek $1.6 billion in federal funds to build the Clifton Corridor light rail from the Lindbergh Center station in North Atlanta to the Avondale station and to create an all-day express bus service from South DeKalb to job centers in the metro area.
For the projects to move forward, voters must approve the penny sales tax Regional Transportation Referendum on July 31. But voters in South DeKalb and critics of the referendum – who include a majority of DeKalb commissioners – say DeKalb’s share doesn’t go far enough.
They want rail to the Stonecrest area, but only $225 million is earmarked in the referendum for the I-20 East corridor. MARTA says the $225 million will be used to build park-and-ride transit centers in South DeKalb. To build rail, the corridor needs $500 million.
After the meeting, Commissioner Larry Johnson said the MARTA board’s approval is a “great first step,” but the project still has to be funded.
“That’s where we have to find the right people to make sure that it is funded,” Johnson said. “Because South DeKalb/I-20 folks been waiting a long time and we deserve a rail right now.”
Johnson said South DeKalb needs rail service. “We’re still focused on trying to get rail for I-20 now, which is in 10 years as opposed to having something 30 years from now.”
The board’s vote allows MARTA officials to start environmental and engineering studies, which could take several years, to enable the system to make bids for federal grants to build the rail projects.
Doreen Carter, president of the Greater Lithonia Chamber of Commerce, said she is concerned that the I-20 rail project will not be a high priority if funding becomes available.
“Yes, they have passed the resolution, but where is it on the priority list of readied projects? And I think that’s what is going to make a difference when the funding becomes available.”