How much will rail on the BeltLine cost?

How much will rail on the BeltLine cost?

A post by Hugh Malkin

Summary


The MARTA Tax

The Atlanta BeltLine is one of the largest economic drivers in the city generating well over $4 billion in private investment. This powerful project is praised for the way it has already enhanced the lives of Atlantans. BUT the BeltLine began in 2003 as a transit-oriented project. So far it has no transit component.

In November of 2016, 71% of voters in the City of Atlanta approved a measure to increase sales tax by a 1/2 penny to expand and enhance the rapid transit system within the City of Atlanta. Light rail around the entire BeltLine was consistently mentioned first in the list of possible projects to get people out to vote.

The new tax is expected to generate $2.5B over the next 40 years which can be leveraged with potential federal funding. The tax began on April 1st, 2017.

 BeltLine transit planning and funding efforts 2003 to 2018

BeltLine transit planning and funding efforts 2003 to 2018

 The BeltLine is the most popular rail project in Atlanta

The BeltLine is the most popular rail project in Atlanta

MARTA's Outreach

MARTA promptly started its outreach after the vote. A survey conducted in 2017 attracted 4,300 people who indicated light rail around the entire BeltLine loop was their most favored project. MARTA featured the full BeltLine loop throughout their 2017 outreach.

 More MARTA Map during the first survey showed the full BeltLine loop. 

More MARTA Map during the first survey showed the full BeltLine loop. 

This outreach is nothing new to residents of Atlanta. Atlanta citizens have endured nearly two decades of community engagement for the Atlanta Beltline, have supported coordinated planning and other studies between all the agencies involved and have agreed to transit-oriented densities well before transit is implemented. This is why we voted for this transportation tax and why the BeltLine is at the top of its project list. Unlike the other projects on the list, the BeltLine intentionally engages challenges like gentrification and economic opportunity to both deliver the best project outcomes and catalyze more comprehensive and systemic change.

It was known that MARTA would use the results from this survey to narrow their list of projects, but the full BeltLine as the top project seemed to be never in doubt.

A "narrowed" project list

 70% of the transportation tax will be spent on this map.

70% of the transportation tax will be spent on this map.

MARTA, the city of Atlanta council and the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc "used results from the first survey" to come up with a narrowed project list and a second survey was released earlier this year. The full BeltLine loop, the most popular project in the first survey, has been removed from the current survey. The BeltLine is no longer seen as a single project. It has been split into six smaller projects and only two of these smaller BeltLine projects were included on the new survey. 

 The BeltLine is reduced to only 30% and 3 other projects are moved forward.

The BeltLine is reduced to only 30% and 3 other projects are moved forward.

A MARTA representative hosting a community forum last week, stated that MARTA has had less than 2,000 people fill out the current survey. In addition, MARTA has presented to only 8 of the city's 25 NPUs. Undeterred by the lack of listening during their outreach, MARTA pushed to vote on the final project list on September 6th without publishing their new findings. Thankfully, this vote has been postponed to October 4th but there is strong doubt in our community about the missing outreach summary and the second survey’s validity. 

 City Councilman Andre Dickens saying "$2.5B won't do it".

City Councilman Andre Dickens saying "$2.5B won't do it".

MARTA has tried to downplay the BeltLine rail project as a whole by faulsely stating "The Atlanta BeltLine envisioned a network of trails” in More MARTA emails as well as stating in break out sessions at More MARTA community forums that the $2.5B transportation tax is not enough to fund the full BeltLine. This statement is then repeated by Atlanta city council and the Ex-CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

How much will rail on the Beltline cost?

 MARTA's estimation of the BeltLine's cost and per district cost.

MARTA's estimation of the BeltLine's cost and per district cost.

MARTA's premise that there is not enough money for rail around the entire BeltLine is contrary to their own More MARTA Technical Analysis. Here Marta states the total BeltLine cost to the $2.5B transportation tax would be $995.4M. This Technical Analysis has broken the BeltLine in to six parts so I have put them together here.

 Atlanta owns the land it planned to own for rail on the BeltLine.

Atlanta owns the land it planned to own for rail on the BeltLine.

In this analysis, MARTA uses “the general rule of thumb that most capital projects (i.e. high dollar amount) are assumed to be funded with 50% local money and 50% with federal money.” So all light rail projects have a true cost that is significantly higher than what Atlantans desire to pay. However, the BeltLine is cheaper than all other light rail projects in the city because we own almost all the land we planned to own for rail. The Northwest corridor and Hulsey Yard were always planned to be easements either next to existing rail corridors or through a development. 

Clifton Corridor

 The City of Atlanta portion of the Clifton Corridor doubled in size due to the Emory annexation.

The City of Atlanta portion of the Clifton Corridor doubled in size due to the Emory annexation.

At the time of the first survey that found the Clifton Corridor to be the second most favored project, the Clifton Corridor was thought to be a needed regional transportation but it was supposed to use a much smaller portion of the $2.5B tax. This has changed at the end of 2017 when Emory became a part of the city of Atlanta. This year, MARTA doubled the City of Atlanta portion of the Clifton Corridor from 2 miles to 4, increasing the price tag from under $200M to $503.6M.

The price is more than double the original cost for Atlanta because the new miles of light rail need to be "cut and cover" tunnels through people's back yards. MARTA estimates the cost of light rail tunnel to be $200M/mile making the the Clifton Corridor the most expensive More MARTA project with a capital cost of $786M.

 Far more Emory Employees live in DeKalb than in Atlanta.

Far more Emory Employees live in DeKalb than in Atlanta.

Most city of Atlanta residents work, shop, and play within the city of Atlanta so they have little need for regional transportation. Regional transportation is still important, but should the 4 mile Clifton Corridor be at the top of the list taking the largest share of the city of Atlanta transportation tax? 

Campbellton Road

Campbellton Road is another needed rapid transit project. It is five miles along Campbellton Road from Oakland City Station to Greenbriar Mall. MARTA has chosen to put both BRT ($130M) and LRT ($263.7M) along this route totaling $393.7M from the transportation tax. MARTA has no explanation for why both. The entire BeltLine can still get light rail, if MARTA only put BRT on Campbellton Road.

Conclusion

The More MARTA plan is good for MARTA but the BeltLine is good for Atlantans AND MARTA. 

The More MARTA plan gets the most federal dollars for Atlantan’s tax money. It has a high potential to encourage neighboring cities to build out their public transit making a bigger MARTA system. It has a high potential ridership using 2010 census and job information. Overall the More MARTA plan helps people from outside the city come to the center of the city. 

But its not good for Atlantans.

 City of Atlanta will triple its population over the next 20 years.

City of Atlanta will triple its population over the next 20 years.

Atlanta has changed. People have moved into the city and more are coming. We are projected to grow from 422,000 in 2010 to 1.2M in 2040. Our roads are already jammed and there is no room to build more road. We support the transportation tax because we know we need more rapid transit that is separated from the gridlocked roads. 

Atlanta is a city of neighborhoods with no rapid transit options to get between our neighborhoods. We chose to live in Atlanta because we want shorter and shorter trips (not just shorter commutes to work). We want to bike, scooter, train, Uber to groceries, shop, vote, and play.

We don't only need to get TO the City of Atlanta, we need to get AROUND the City of Atlanta.

 The missing BeltLine segments in the More MARTA plan

The missing BeltLine segments in the More MARTA plan

This is why Atlantans voted for a transportation tax. We, the rapidly growing residents of Atlanta, tell you NOW that we want rail around the entire BeltLine loop as it was originally intended.  We know this project will bring about less congestion, less pollution and the best enhancement of not only our lives but will also improve the lives of those who live near us.

If MARTA truly wants to stick to its stated vision of providing public transit to boost economic development and enhance the lives of Atlantans, then install light rail around the whole BeltLine right NOW! Let Atlanta truly become a satellite of envy and admiration worldwide!

What MARTA and our city council can Do

Atlantans are passionate about rail on the BeltLine. We have formed the non-profit BeltLine Rail Now, over 5,000 have signed a petition, written lots of blogs, presented to 23 of the 25 NPUs and donated money and time to spread the word. 

At the bare minimum we are asking MARTA, the City of Atlanta council and the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc to be transparent. Create an outreach program that includes the full BeltLine as a project option in their survey,  include the estimated size and cost of each project and publish their findings before voting.

Finally, if the City of Atlanta's transportation tax does not put rail on the BeltLine, please tell us where will the money come from to finish the BeltLine and when will it happen!

What You can do

Contact your council member to tell them you want rail around the entire BeltLine and ask them for transparency on how they decide to spend your transportation tax. Come to BeltLine Rail Now events including the September 6th and October 4th MARTA Board meetings. Sign the BeltLine Rail Now petition. Finally, donate to BeltLine Rail Now to help spread the word.

 Prioritizing rail on the BeltLine is more equitable for all city districts.

Prioritizing rail on the BeltLine is more equitable for all city districts.

 Find your district and contact your council person.

Find your district and contact your council person.


Sources