Frustrated members of the audience wanted to know why rail hasn’t already been extended to the Mall at Stonecrest and balked at projections that look out to 2030.
“We’ve already spent 40 years here trying to get transit and you’re talking 2030?” said Cherry Willis, a second vice president of teh DeKalb NAACP branch. “I hate to tell you how old I am, but 30 years from now I will not be riding rail.”
Transit improvements in the I-20 East Corridor have been in progressive study phases at MARTA for 10 years, according to I-20 Project Manager Janide Sidifall.
The year 2030 was not a construction date, but additional mandatory studies will take at least another 10 years.
“It’s unfortunately a long process but one that we have to go through to get to that ultimate realization,” Sidifall said.
Two weeks ago, the Federal Transit Administration issued a notice of intent on the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) that came out of studies already conducted. The notice of intent allows the project to move into the environmental studies phase of the project development process.
Under the LPA , the existing MARTA rail line would extend from the Indian Creek Station to the Mall at Stonecrest, and Bus Rapid Transit service would be developed along I-20 between downtown Atlanta and Wesley Chapel Road.
The service is expected to carry almost 4.7 million riders annually. The new heavy rail is expected to reduce the annual automobile miles driven in the corridor by more than 21 million miles.
The projected cost of the improvements is nearly $2 billion and the annual cost of operations and maintenance is expected to be $18 million.
MARTA officials were at the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts and Community Center on Sept. 11 for the second of three “public scoping meetings” on the plan held this week in Atlanta, Decatur and Lithonia.
Scoping is the first step of the environmental studies phase, when agencies, organizations and the public shape the course of impact studies on a wide variety of factors including water and air quality, noise and vibration, land use and aesthetics.
But environmental impact took a back seat at the Porter Sanford meeting as residents called each other to action.
“We need to accept the fact that we’ve already been screwed,” said Robert Douglas, one of about 75 people who attended the meeting. “This could be a fresh start. We need to strategize. We need to educate each other. We need to find out the process to move on this. … Twenty years from now, none of us may be here, but at least we can do this for our children.”
John Evans, DeKalb NAACP president, said the community should work toward getting people who represent South DeKalb’s interests on MARTA’s board of directors.
“We want you to go back and say these folks want a rail system,” Evans told MARTA officials at the meeting. “Say it, and put a period behind it.”
DeKalb District 3 County Commissioner Larry Johnson kicked the meeting off by asking the audience to “please get engaged.”
“We sent the message that we want to have rail in our community,” Johnson said. “This process moves us along to make that happen.”
Johnson was referring to the failed transportation special purpose local option sales tax referendum (T-SPLOST) on the July 31 ballot. He was among a lengthy list of elected officials and civic and community leaders who lobbied against T-SPLOST. Opponents said I-20 rail was past due in south DeKalb County, and a county that, particularly when Fulton and DeKalb are the only two counties that support MARTA.
The penny sales tax paid in the counties over the past 40 years has contributed more than $7.5 billion to MARTA through 2011.
On Tuesday, Johnson was looking forward, though.
“We want to have our ducks in a row in January,” he said, referring to transportation initiatives that could come up in the Legislature. Johnson encouraged the audience to attend MARTA board, the state Legislature’s MARTOC, and Atlanta Regional Commission meetings. He said people should become familiar with MARTA’s many acronyms and technical terminologies.
“The more we’re educated, the more we can go forward,” Johnson said. “We can’t just focus on emotion. We’ve got to have our facts.”
In an interview after the meeting, Sidifall said the environmental phase of the I-20 East Corridor effort will take about three to four years to complete.
That phase will be followed by engineering and design phases that could each take several years to complete, she said.
Cheryl King, MARTA’s assistant general manager for planning, said that reaching the construction phase – assuming required local funding has been committed – could take at least 10 to 12 years.
She said that acquiring private money to support the project might help hasten that pace, “since we wouldn’t have to jump through all of the federal hoops.”
“It may be 10 to 15 years before we can use [the new system] but there will be … benefits as we go along this continuum,” King said.
Down the road, there will be jobs for surveyors, designers and construction workers, and others, she said, and as people see the project take shape there will be interest in investing in adjacent land.
MARTA will accept written comments submitted by Oct. 15 to Janide Sidifall, Office of Transit System Planning, MARTA, 2424 Piedmont Road N.E., Atlanta, GA 30324.
For more information, visit www.itsmarta.com/i20-east-corr.aspx.