MARTA's board of directors approved Monday a $1.16 billion plan to lay nearly nine miles of light rail between its existing stops at Lindbergh Station and Avondale, including several stations in the North Decatur and North Druid Hills area.
The ambitious plan, which could take an additional eight years of planning and testing before construction begins, could dramatically change transportation in parts of the North Druid Hills area, which finds its major arteries choked with traffic during morning and evening rush hour.
Details from the approved plan include 8.8 miles of light rail double track, including tunnels and elevated sections and 10 platforms at the following stops:
- Lindbergh Center (transfer to Red or Gold lines)
- Cheshire Bridge
- Sage Hill
- CDC/Emory Point
- North Decatur
- Suburban Plaza
- DeKalb Medical Center
- Avondale Station (transfer to the Blue Line)
The plan would also consider a Piedmont stop for transfer to the BeltLine and two other stops at DeKalb Industrial and North Arcadia.
MARTA is looking for federal grants and other money, but they're hoping taxpayers will provide the majority of the funding. The project could get $700 million on July 31 if voters approve a one-cent, regional sales tax that would pay for the line's first phase from Lindbergh Station to the CDC/Emory area. The remainder would likely come from grants.
Monday's vote was significant, MARTA officials said. But many more approvals await the project as MARTA faces its own bugetary pressures and is planning service cutbacks.
"[The vote] was significant from the point that now we can move to the next step," said Cheryl King, MARTA's assistant general manager for planning.
Even though the transportation authority is facing an austere budgetary situation, King said it was important for MARTA – due to the extraordinary amount of time it takes to get these projects built – to plan as far as a decade ahead even if that means approving highly priced projects now.
"We gotta plan now for the future," she said. "A lot of our planning work is paid for with federal grants, and it can only be used for that purpose."
If the rail is built, the addition would add about $15.3 million in operating costs to MARTA's bottom line each year, said Jason Morgan, a MARTA project manager.
The light rail plan also intersects with one of the North Druid Hills area's larger ongoing stories – the development of Suburban Plaza by Selig Enterprises, including the construction of a Walmart Supercenter .