Emory/MARTA team up
to support light rail study

For years Emory transportation officials have dreamed of the tremendous benefits that would come with a MARTA rail station on or near campus. Drastic reductions in traffic congestion, air pollution and the need to build additional parking decks are chief among those benefits.

The long and expensive effort to expand MARTA into the burgeoning northern suburbs, as well as a steadily shrinking pool of federal dollars to support transportation, are partially responsible for keeping the dream of rail service to Emory an elusive one.

The tide, however, could be turning. Public hearings will begin later this month for a federally funded study on creating a light rail line that would link the Lindbergh MARTA station, the Emory campus, the Decatur area and south DeKalb County.

In what constitutes an unprecedented and unique partnership with MARTA, Emory has agreed to provide $82,000 (10 percent) of the $820,000 study. The federal government will provide most of the funding.

President Bill Chace is enthusiastic about the study's potential and Emory's participation. "MARTA has been very forthcoming and helpful to us in an area where we need much help, namely, our ways of managing the very considerable traffic in and around campus," Chace said. "The study that we will undertake with MARTA will benefit the University as well as the entire county."

"What Emory has done is extraordinary," said Gloria Gaines, MARTA vice president for planning. "We are just fascinated by Emory's recognition of its need to participate in finding solutions for transportation problems in the Clifton Corridor. The citizens of metro Atlanta have invested more than $3 billion in their rail system, and that investment is providing returns in the form of better air quality and increased economic development. Emory has the foresight to recognize that, and I hope that what Emory has done will set a precedent."

Gaines pointed out the importance that President Chace attached to rail service at Emory in his 1995 inaugural address.

"The timing of the light rail feasibility study is excellent, as Emory embarks on its campus master planning efforts," said Betty Willis, Emory's director of community affairs. Willis emphasized that area residents and businesses have been involved in those planning efforts and she sees the feasibility study as an important opportunity for the Emory community and its neighbors to have a voice in the development of the study and the direction it takes.

The study, which is expected to take about a year to complete, will consider the questions of whether the route for the light rail system would follow existing railroad lines and exactly where an Emory station would be located.

Pursuing the light rail study is a continuation of Emory's alternative transportation efforts, which were initiated nearly three years ago when Emory began offering free MARTA passes and special benefits for carpooling to employees. Today, about 800 employees on the main campus receive free monthly MARTA passes, and about 250 employees are registered for Emory's carpooling incentives program.

-Dan Treadaway

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