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MARTA Rail Proposals in All Directions but South
(APN) ATLANTA -- When the Atlanta Regional Roundtable considers proposals to include as part of the finalized regional wish list for the 2012 penny sales tax vote, there will be several MARTA Heavy Rail Line Extensions on the table: East, North, Northeast, West; extensions for every existing line but the one heading due South.
Conceivably, a MARTA Heavy Rail South Line Extension could extend from the current Airport Station down into Clayton County. With Clayton County having recently lost its public transportation C-TRAN--and with Clayton County residents having recently voted in a non-binding referendum to join MARTA--it would seem, from the perspective of serving the greatest need, a Southern Line Extension could have been quite helpful.
Clayton County's initial wish list included funding for a commuter rail project in addition to buses, but if the County wants a rail project, joining the MARTA Heavy Rail South Line would seem to be a reasonable idea.
The exclusion of a Heavy Rail South Line Extension may have more do with with legal and political realities--and with the lack of leadership on the Clayton County Commission--than with racial discrimination or classism on the part of MARTA, the region, or state.
Currently, MARTA is only permitted to operate in Fulton and Dekalb Counties and the City of Atlanta [in addition to one bus line in Cobb County through an agreement with Cobb], according to Ashley Robbins, President of Citizens for Progressive Transit.
And while the proposals for the East, North, Northeast, and West Line Extensions could all be completed by expanding out further into Fulton and Dekalb Counties, it would be impossible to extend any further south below the existing Airport Station, without going into Clayton County.
While Clayton County could choose to join MARTA through a binding referendum, each of the County's Commissioners with the exception of Chairman Eldrin Bell have not been supportive of such a binding referendum. Two of these Commissioners are currently facing reelection.
Chairman Bell did not answer two calls to his cell phone, while his voice mailbox was full.
Robbins said that Clayton's request for commuter rail [which at this point would not be part of MARTA] is more economically feasible and that it could hook up with MARTA's existing South Line.
Gwinnett County has proposed light-rail which would hook up with the proposed Northeast Line Extension for MARTA, Robbins added. The Northeast Line extension merely takes the line across the highway, to a location where it will be easier to connect with the light-rail proposed for Gwinnett.
The Atlanta Regional Roundtable originally included in its regional list, all items from the wish list submitted by MARTA; this list included extensions for the East Line, Northeast Line, and West Line.
Atlanta Regional Commission spokesman Jim Jaquish referred Atlanta Progressive News to MARTA for any questions regarding the rationale for MARTA's Heavy Rail Line Extension proposals.
MARTA spokeswoman Cara Hodgson noted that its wish list originated from its department of planning. Hodgson offered to set up an interview with a staff member from that department, but it could not be completed by press time.
Still, Robbins told APN that MARTA had already been engaging in a planning process for a West Line Extension, while Hodgson added that it was more feasible for MARTA to request funding for projects that were already in a later stage of the planning process because they could be completely more quickly.
According to a copy of an old MARTA planning map which is still posted on an escalator at Peachtree Center Station, the West Line Extension and the Northeast Line Extension were in fact part of a later update of the original plan for MARTA, dating back at least twenty years.
Historically, voters in the northern part of the Metro Atlanta region have hesitated in making it easier for low-income Black people to travel into their neighborhoods.
Gwinnett County voters, the majority of whom are White, declined to join MARTA in 1971 and again in 1990.
Incidentally, Clayton County's recent nonbinding vote to join MARTA was a major turnaround for the County, which previously voted not to join MARTA. Of course, between the two votes, Clayton went from being a majority White to a majority Black county.
But the State of Georgia's Department of Transportation thought the Atlanta Regional Roundtable should consider an additional line extension, for the North Line.
To be sure, it is still not clear whether the voters of the nothern part of the region are ready to get past historical racism and classism, to allow for MARTA to extend further north. But whether they realize it or not, they would stand to benefit from greater connectivity throughout their region, as well as better commuting options for those working by day in the City of Atlanta.
Jill Goldberg, a spokeswoman for GDOT, asked APN to email her with any questions, but did not respond by press time. APN asked GDOT why it decided to add a North Line Extension to the list of proposed items for consideration.
Goldberg confirmed, though, that GDOT did suggest to the Roundtable that an extension be considered from the current North Springs Station, north to State Road 140, also known as Holcomb Bridge, in Roswell.
One Northside resident told APN that this would not be much further north than the current end of the line in North Springs, but it would help by adding connectivity west to residents of Crabapple, and east to residents of Duluth.
Still a North Line Extension proposal could have conceivably gone further, to Mansell, Old Milton Parkway, or to Winward.
The racial and political divisions of North and South play out in the City of Atlanta, in Fulton County, and in the region as a whole, where generally, the northern parts are populated more by Whites and Republicans, and the southern parts are populated more by Blacks and Democrats.
The regional sales tax vote in 2012 for the Metro Atlanta will be interesting to watch in part because it is a test of how well the Metro counties can work well together to achieve a common goal.
But do the counties have a common goal?
Perhaps not. That is why the challenge among Metro Atlanta area Mayors, County Commissioners, and Roundtable Members who support the tax is to craft a compromise of sorts, where each party may get part of what it wants.
(END / 2011)
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