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June 11, 2001

New proposal rekindles MARTA hopes

By Michael Terrazas


In the latest round of Emory’s ongoing quest to bring commuter rail transit to campus, the University has thrown its support behind a new proposal that would link it via light rail to the Lindbergh MARTA Station, with the line continuing to the Atlanta University Center, then turning east again to DeKalb County along I-20.

U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) have asked the federal Department of Transportation for $2 million to fund a feasibility study of the arc-shaped route, and a cadre of greater Atlanta businesses, universities and other organizations have expressed enthusiasm for the idea.

“I think the new proposed route might be the breakthrough we have all been hoping for,” said President Bill Chace. “As far as I can tell, all parties that have examined it have found it most appropriate for their respective needs and situations. I am happy that such a promising plan has been developed, and the entire Atlanta community can be assured that Emory will continue to work actively toward reducing automotive pollution and traffic glut.”

“We’re very excited about this proposal,” said Betty Willis, associate vice president of governmental and community affairs, who has been leading the effort as chair of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce transportation committee. “None of the previous [route proposals] connected so many vital employment and activity centers, as well as the major universities in the metro area, and we feel it addresses a growing need to provide rail transit to some densely crowded intown neighborhoods.”

Along with the two Congres-sional representatives, other individuals who have put their support in writing for the proposed line include Chace, Georgia State University President Carl Patton, Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough, Central Atlanta Progress President Richard Reinhard, the city of Atlanta, and numerous corporations. The Georgia Regional Transit Authority (GRTA) passed a resolution supporting the study at its May meeting.

“While there is a great need to offer transportation alternatives to the region’s daily car commuters from surrounding suburbs, there are also a significant number of citizens who live, work and travel within the heart of the Atlanta area with limited or no access to public transit,” wrote Erick Gaither, president of the Clifton Corridor Transpor-tation Management Association and Emory senior associate vice president for business management.

“Light rail is a logical next step in building a transit network in Atlanta that can meet our mobility needs,” wrote Reinhard, whose organization is managing a multiyear cooperative planning process for the city’s downtown stakeholders, in a letter to Lewis. “Light rail would be more flexible and less costly than heavy rail extensions and more environmentally sound than added road capacity. Light rail can be more easily linked to other forms of public transportation, such as commuter rail and MARTA heavy rail.”

The technology for light rail—as opposed to existing MARTA trains, which are all heavy rail—is akin to that employed by streetcar lines. Indeed, a light-rail line would harken back to Atlanta’s own pre-World War II past, when streetcars ferreted passengers back and forth between downtown and then-remote suburbs such as Ansley Park, Druid Hills, Grant Park and other neighborhoods.

“There is a company in Italy that can produce light-rail vehicles made to resemble anything you’d want, from sleek, aerodynamic trains to old-fashioned trolley cars,” Willis said, adding that new technology also enables light-rail trains to function without overhead electrical lines, instead drawing their electrical power from beneath the tracks themselves—and without safety risks to pedestrians crossing the tracks.

However, even with growing support, when it comes to public rail transit, the wheels of action can move agonizingly slowly.

“Don’t expect to hop on the trolley anytime soon,” Willis said. “Assuming funding is appropriated, the study would likely begin early next year and could take 12–18 months to complete. It would identify the exact route, ridership numbers, environmental and community impact and other criteria. Then it would compete for the same pot of money as the other proposed lines that are already further along in the process. If all goes well, it could take eight years or longer to get up and running.”

Willis said her office can provide sample letters for anyone wishing to write his or her Congressperson. For more information, call 404-727-5166.

Back to Emory Report June 11, 2001