- The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded Atlanta and its Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) a $12.6 million grant to help fund the city's planned bus rapid transit (BRT) system.
- The $48.6 million project, to build a 9.4-mile system, would connect the Summerhill neighborhood — which houses Turner Field and is near Zoo Atlanta — with downtown and Midtown. It will link to MARTA's heavy rail system and Atlanta Streetcar.
- The project includes installing about 30 stations and purchasing five BRT vehicles that will operate on existing roadways and dedicated lanes. Construction could begin by 2021 and is expected to take about three years to complete.
Atlanta is a sprawling metropolitan area where most residents live in suburbs; about 475,000 live in the city itself, but the metropolitan area has nearly 5.8 million people. Citizens are highly dependent on traveling by car, which creates the area's notoriously bad traffic congestion.
Atlanta has been making a huge push in recent years to add and expand transit options, but it hasn't always been smooth sailing. The Atlanta Streetcar got off to a rocky start when it launched in 2014 — plagued by safety concerns and incredibly low ridership — and the Georgia Department of Transportation threatened to shut it down in 2016. The system has seen safety and ridership improvements since it was taken over by MARTA last year, and it just entered a contract with Siemens for predictive maintenance technology upgrades.
The Atlanta Streetcar also has a short route in downtown, which only makes it a feasible option for a portion of the city's population. The new BRT will cover a bit more territory and connect to the Atlanta Streetcar, creating a more comprehensive, widespread transit system. Transit leaders allude to future expansion for both systems. The city likely will continue to struggle with transit options gaining traction until they push farther out from the city center to where more residents live. Still, the BRT plan is a good start.
By installing stations south of downtown in Summerhill, MARTA is making headway on expanding transit beyond the city center. The neighborhood is going through redevelopment since the Atlanta Braves left Turner Field for a new stadium in the suburbs two years ago. Georgia State University acquired Turner Field and its surrounding parking lots through a partnership with developers, and they're transforming it into a $300 million mixed-use community. Bringing BRT to this neighborhood likely will boost economic development opportunities and perhaps pave the way for transit expansion further south of downtown.
True BRT lines run solely in dedicated lanes that usually have raised platforms for passengers and ticketing machines, and the vehicles are connected to grids so they can trip traffic lights and keep moving. Atlanta's BRT is going to be a hybrid that operates both in dedicated lanes and on existing streets. While that initially might be more cost-effective because the entire system won't necessarily have to be upgraded with new infrastructure, it presents a challenge with the BRT vehicles getting caught in Atlanta's heavy traffic. But with construction still several years off, there's still plenty of time for MARTA to tweak the BRT plans.