Emory Report

April 5, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 26

MARTA plans unveiled, area residents still lukewarm

The almost two years since MARTA announced its intention to study the feasibility of a transit corridor connecting South DeKalb and Clifton Road to the Lindbergh station have not dimmed the ardor of the plan's opponents. At a Monday, March 29, open forum and at two others later in the week, MARTA unveiled several route options to the community. The forums provided more flexibility and opportunity to comment than the more formal public hearings the authority held in 1997.

Shuttles were available for members of the Emory community to go to the afternoon meeting and voice their support. But Erick Gaither, senior associate vice president for business management, said he was disappointed with the results. "We had hoped for more students, and Emory faculty and staff, to go to the hearings," he said.

Mid-afternoon Monday at the Manuel Maloof auditorium in downtown Decatur, visitors were greeted with "No MARTA to Northlake" placards just outside the building. A light rail line through neighborhoods near Northlake Mall is one of the options the transit authority presented in response to community input. Inside, about 150 milling DeKalb residents looked at the various options for the corridor and asked MARTA officials questions, but without the open hostility that characterized the public hearings. Many residents came only to fill out comment cards or to put their opinions "on the record" with the court reporters present.

Gaither said that of the residents he talked with, "No one was opposed to us getting relief for traffic and congestion. But they had strong feelings about [MARTA] coming through their neighborhoods.

"I think all of us realize that it's going to be gridlocked in about five years if we don't do something," Gaither said, adding, "Light rail is not as intrusive as heavy rail would be and is not much bigger than a bus. We're sensitive to our neighbors' feelings, but at the same time, the traffic's going to clog these neighborhoods."

But some Decatur residents seemed determined not to allow the town, which already has three transit stations within its four-square-mile boundary, to be "bisected," in the words of one, with another rail line headed toward Emory up Clairemont Road.

MARTA proposed six alternatives for rail service along the South DeKalb/Emory/Lindbergh corridor. The first two were "no build" and transportation system management (TSM), which would make alterations to existing roadways and transit. A final option, a route from East Lake station to the Toco Hills area voted on in 1971 referendum, has little chance of being built.

The aforementioned Northlake line is the third concept, a split route with a northern arc from Lindbergh to Emory that terminates in the Northlake area and a southern arc through the Kirkwood neighborhood to South DeKalb. This line is the most expensive of the options presented.

The fourth option is a route from Panthersville Road in South DeKalb up Candler Road to Avondale station. From Avondale it would travel to Emory and move along existing CSX tracks to Lindbergh. According to MARTA data, this plan had the highest noise impact and displacements of any of the six options.

MARTA officials presented two options for a route through Decatur. The first would mostly likely employ light rail from Panthersville Road to the Decatur Station, through Decatur to Emory, and on to Lindbergh. The second would re-route the line along the railroad tracks on College Avenue in Decatur, to the East Lake station, to existing CSX rail through Druid Hills to Emory, and on to Lindbergh.

This was the most direct route of the ones presented by the transit authority but the one which, for residents, proved most problematic. A woman who lives along Clairemont vigorously opposed the plan, saying that MARTA officials couldn't guarantee that trees along the route wouldn't be cut down or residential property easements wouldn't be "condemned" to widen the road for tracks.

"While Emory would love to have a light-rail connection to MARTA to help eliminate current and future traffic congestion, we have not taken a position on any of the concepts currently being studied by MARTA," said Betty Willis, director of community affairs. Indeed, the MARTA officials present at the open forum were noncommittal about much of the information presented and warned residents about drawing final conclusions based on the proposals.

Three other transit corridor proposals are before the MARTA board, and the South DeKalb/Clifton/Lindbergh corridor was ranked third of the four presented. Political factors, funding, community input and regional considerations will all factor into whether a rail line will be built through Emory, officials said. A second meeting at South DeKalb Mall, March 30, had area residents voicing stronger support for the plans, the Atlanta Journal/Constitution reported.

--Stacey Jones

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