MARTA Planning Major Rail Expansion Northward

It appears MARTA is beginning the process to expand up the GA-400 Corridor toward (but not into) Forsyth County.  Dave Williams of The Atlanta Business Chronicle has the scoop:

MARTA is planning to extend transit service along the Georgia 400 corridor in North Fulton County, with up to six new stations.

The agency is focusing on an alignment that would run heavy rail, light rail or bus rapid transit within existing right-of-way for 11.9 miles from the North Springs MARTA station in Dunwoody, Ga., north to Windward Parkway in Alpharetta, Ga., according to a public notice of the project filed by the Federal Transit Administration.

The project would be the first expansion of the MARTA system since the Sandy Springs and North Springs stations opened in 2000, also on the Georgia 400 corridor.

A few key items here.  Do not underestimate the importance of the words “within existing right of way”.  That significantly reduces the cost of any expansion, as well as speeds up the time frame when this could be accomplished.

The words “Bus Rapid Transit” are also sorely misunderstood with the public.  This is not merely “express buses” like GRTA uses.  Think more like a train on wheels using HOV/HOT lanes with dedicated stations.  It’s not merely bus service.  Expect to see a lot more talk about BRT going forward when transit is discussed.  It’s cheaper to implement, and easier to change routes if population/traffic patterns change.


  1. Don’t know that I would call this story a scoop. MARTA had a study last year and into the Spring. It wasn’t well publicized yet still presented the “preferences” of those in North Fulton. A bit of a sham if you ask me. But that’s a different story.

    The only news here is the public notice that was filed.

    • bgsmallz says:

      Agree, that this isn’t “new” information, but the fact that they are actually moving forward with it is very much news and not a sham. The key point of the ROW that Marta already owns AND the fact that the original study on this expansion was done back in 2000. (There is an article in the AJC from 2000 that states Marta expects to have train service to Windward no later than 2025…feel free to look it up in the stacks or whatever… )

      • I should probably elaborate.

        MARTA’s study was called “Connect 400”. It was poorly planned and publicized. Input was scheduled around the holidays last year and participation was primarily from members of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce (who’s leaders are certainly pro-transit). They only received 136 responses.

        But for MARTA this was enough to determine what they called a “Locally Preferred Alternative” for transit along 400. That alternative was heavy rail along the ROW. That’s what they presented to the MARTA board a few weeks ago.

        I personally think rail of any kind is crazy expensive and not a wise way to spend taxpayer money. Many in north Fulton would agree. I think MARTA would see this if they conducted a more exhaustive and scientific study.

        • bgsmallz says:

          I think two things are getting confused. Connect 400 was not a ‘study’…it was a public meeting, info gathering, and awareness campaign to reboot discussion on the topic.

          I don’t think you need to consider heavy rail to Alpharetta as some sort of conspiracy plot. I looked at your blog and get the point…we can widen roads for much cheaper so it must be “better” than transit. Fine…that’s your opinion.

          But you reference the 2000 study on your website. Marta’s goal has been to extend heavy rail to Windward since the North Springs station opened in Dec. of 2000. If there was some sort of plot, I assume they wouldn’t have built those tracks that head north from the station and dead end.

  2. MattMD says:

    I seriously doubt they build heavy rail, it’s just too expensive.

    I remember the line they were going to build to Emory with the T-SPLOST was light rail. I’d rather have them do heavy rail or BRT. Light rail is just a PITA and likely too slow.

    • bgsmallz says:

      The problem with BRT serving just this corridor is that you begin to lose efficiency and ridership because the whole system isn’t BRT. There are certainly many benefits to BRT, but considering North Fulton has been paying for Marta through sales taxes, I’d hate to think that anything other than heavy rail (even if it takes…gasp…more money for that type of investment) would be considered.

      What’s fascinating about this stretch is the potential to increase ridership north and south…400 north of 285 is jammed in both directions at morning and evening rush. Do it right…put in heavy rail with stations that are not only commuter friendly but friendly to surrounding development…and equip all the trains with WIFI….I bet you could double the ridership on the system by only adding 12 miles of track.

    • Scott65 says:

      They are also trying to go ahead with the Clifton Line…also trying to ditch the “locally preferred alternative” to save money after spending all that time to come up with it, and people wonder why people give MARTA so much grief.

    • Scott65 says:

      There are 2 big problems with the ROW…1st, you gotta cross the river, 2nd the area around Holcomb Br Rd is very swampy and hard to build on within the existing ROW…so not sure what the total cost on this would be…and I can already hear the screams coming from S.DeKalb…

  3. saltycracker says:

    Interesting. BRT cost and flexibility makes good sense in the fast growing north side. Bgs makes good points, too. None of this balances with presentations by Marta or DOT in long range planning for the north side. Nor with all the TSplost talk where nothing more was planned up 400 and nothing well up 75/575. It was usually folks with power points saying the citizens wanted buses running everywhere, in spite of polls to the contrary, or there just isn’t money available for roads.

    Looks like if one tactic to get money funneled to Marta won’t work, they’ll toss in another play.
    What’s for real ?

    • bgsmallz says:

      The rail line along 400 was one of the key projects that was heavily discussed but got left on the final cutting room floor during the T-Splost process. “Nothing was planned” is completely false. A 400 line has been ‘planned’ for 20 years. I think there was $37M in T-Splost for feasibility work on it, too, but I don’t have time to look it up.

      By the way, the T-Splost wasn’t a rejection of transit. It was a rejection of doing things half-baked. Having politicians rather than…you know…professionals that understand the regional traffic issues…set the list was an awful mistake. IMO.

      I’m still waiting for the Kyle Wingfield follow up on transit. “Worry less about getting this done soon and more about getting it right.”

      I’ve missed in the last 2 years where Kyle has taken to the paper and addressed getting transit to the places where ‘traffic is the worst’ and ‘doing it right’…well, guess what? Here it is…a rail line up 400 where traffic is the worst. I’ve got a pretty good feeling Mr. Wingfield and others of a like mind will find a way to continue to ‘rail’ against transit, even though it seemingly answers most of the criticisms he had in Feb. 2012.

      • saltycracker says:

        I’m not disagreeing with you – so replace “planned” on Tsplost major improvements, with a few exceptions, in areas mentioned were: “got nothing for you”….
        contributing to my no vote…..

      • Great point about the T-SPLOST. There was a non-binding referendum on the primary ballot (both parties) in Gwinnett in 2008 – all it said was should Gwinnett join MARTA. It got like 47% or something like that – big win in the Democratic primary and somewhere in the 30’s in the Republican primary.

        Fast forward 4 years, and the T-SPLOST was in the gutter. Around 30%. I’d be surprised if even Democrats in the county gave it a majority. Now obviously, non-binding is a lot different, the economy was different, yada yada yada, but at the very least, if you look at the various referendums on MARTA (Clayton has had them too, it passed overwhelmingly vs the T-SPLOST which lost) you typically see that MARTA on its own is a much more popular proposition than the T-SPLOST, which included some MARTA was.

  4. Will Durant says:

    Wouldn’t it be more prudent to spend the $16 Billion proposed for HOT lanes, that are required for BRT, on heavy rail?

    • If you went all in on BRT the HOT lanes would be a good investment. I could envision BRT stations at highway overpasses, if you’ve ever seen the metro in Chicago once you get out of the cities and it runs along the highways, something similar to that. So like a BRT bus that goes in the left lanes along the highways, with stations at the overpasses, connecting to BRT buses that go east/west (in the case of 400) once you get off.

      Probably a huge investment, but potentially more bang for your buck long term than the rail.

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