ATLANTA — MARTA announced on Thursday that its board had voted to advance a bus rapid transit (BRT) system plan along the Campbellton Road corridor.
The plan, which has been hotly debated with some community advocates expressing a preference for an original light rail plan, was billed by the agency as "part of an overall $300 million dollar transit and infrastructure investment in southwest Atlanta."
That number is a critical one, and will be closely scrutinized. Part of the community debate around the BRT plan focused on the cost of the light rail proposal - a little north of $300 million - versus the cost of BRT, which is about $120 million.
MARTA officials had argued BRT would bring rapid transit connectivity from the Greenbriar Mall area on the Westside perimeter to the Oakland City MARTA heavy rail station south of Downtown far faster than building out a light rail line.
The cheaper cost, they said, was incidental - and they are now pledging the difference will be made up with other infrastructure investments.
“This will be a gold standard BRT system, complete with stations, platform-level entry at both doors, and dedicated lanes, very much like a rail system, but at a lower cost and with a faster construction completion time,” MARTA Interim General Manager and CEO Collie Greenwood said in a statement. “Center-running BRT also allows us to invest more money in the corridor with pedestrian and cycling amenities and infrastructure features that benefit the entire community.”
The system, according to MARTA, will bring the full travel time down Campbellton Road - one of Atlanta's busiest corridors, in a historically underserved community - down to 18 minutes. The agency said that represents a 35% faster travel times than the current route.
"Other proposed BRT amenities include off board fare payment similar to the train, level boarding platforms, electric BRT vehicles, and transit signal priority to improve travel times and reliability," MARTA's release said.
MARTA has previously told 11Alive once the transit authority's Board of Directors approves the BRT plan, it could move forward with applying for federal assistance to put it in motion.
The issue was a hot political one earlier in the year, with advocates including Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet arguing against the BRT plan.
“We did hear from some who see BRT as an inferior investment and are concerned that transit-oriented development won’t be as robust. That is simply not true. BRT is a premium transit service that can be delivered faster, for less money, operate more affordably, and is much more flexible than fixed rail transit, making it the clear choice for this corridor and the best use of taxpayer money,” said MARTA Board Chair Rita Scott in a statement. “And I’m confident as this project comes to fruition, the people who live and work in this corridor will agree.”
MARTA offered its own polling that showed a close split between community preference for BRT and light rail, with a very slight edge to BRT. 11Ailve's Jerry Carnes reported earlier this month on the community fault lines over the issue.
“Sometimes the Mercedes isn't the best," Sherry Williams, who began as a fierce light rail advocate but eventually softened her stance on BRT, said. "Sometimes you're better with a Lincoln or a Lexus."