Atlanta Business Chronicle | Bus rapid transit line proposed to link Midtown, former Turner Field

MARTA is leading a plan for a nearly $50 million project to create a 9.4-mile bus rapid transit line connecting Midtown’s Arts Center station to Summerhill, the 72-acre redevelopment of Turner Field anchored by Georgia State University.

The idea comes as city of Atlanta and Fulton County officials work on long-range transportation plans that could expand transit options several years after the failed T-SPLOST referendum.

It would be the state’s first bus rapid transit, or BRT, loop. Bus rapid transit is a less expensive transportation alternative than light or heavy rail. It features rubber-tired vehicles that usually operate in a dedicated lane. 

Bookended by Arts Center Station and Summerhill, the proposed line would run along Juniper and Courtland Streets and Piedmont Avenue, according to MARTA. It may feature up to six BRT vehicles, 30 stations, 16-minute one-way travel times, and 16 hours of daily service.

It would likely use a dedicated lane for a significant portion of the loop, in contrast to the Atlanta Streetcar. BRT may also help to offset a challenge that city and transportation officials have battled for years — connecting the job centers of Midtown and South downtown and students on the Georgia Tech and Georgia State campuses to the previous Turner Field and its surrounding neighborhoods including Summerhill. 

For years, those neighborhoods have not been served by MARTA rail. And, the promise of economic development for those neighborhoods has been cut off by the I-20 interchange.

The loop could connect up to 94,000 jobs and average 8,500 daily riders, which is more than double MARTA’s busiest existing bus lines.

“This area has been looking for enhanced connectivity,” said MARTA Assistant General Manager Ben Limmer. “We are excited about the potential for more transit service from Midtown to South Downtown and the new Georgia State Athletic Campus.”

David Nelson, with Carter Developments, one of the GSU partners on the Summerhill project said, “The No. 1 question we get when talking to companies about corporate relocations is ‘What is our connection to transit?’”

Carter is proposing at least 1 million square feet of office space in the Summerhill mixed-use project, otherwise known as the redevelopment of the former Turner Field, once home of the Atlanta Braves, before the team relocated to Cobb County. 

“Having a transit line gives us the ability to say we are now connected to downtown and Midtown, and that will be important for any future office users.”

At $48.6 million, the project would still be costly, a little over $5 million per mile. In contrast, however, light rail would cost at least $100 million per mile, and heavy rail more like $250 million per mile, Limmer said.

Cost is always a roadblock to rail expansion. Bus rapid transit also has a shorter construction timeline.

“We like this option as a near-term solution,” Limmer said. “People want solutions now.”

MARTA has led a request for a federal grant through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, better known as TIGER. MARTA is seeking up to $12.5 million for the BRT loop.

In an October letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, then-Mayor Kasim Reed said the city of Atlanta would commit up to $30 million from its TSPLOST program. 

Reed said the goal is a transit alternative for a congested corridor undergoing significant redevelopment.  

MARTA expects it may receive an answer from the feds sometime this spring.

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By Douglas Sams, Commercial Real Estate Editor - Atlanta Business Chronicle

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