Construction of Atlanta’s first bus-rapid transit line finally starts soon

Route now called MARTA Rapid Summerhill will include 14 stops, link from downtown to BeltLine

Four years after the community engagement process kicked off—and four months after the project’s official “groundbreaking” took place—Atlanta’s first stab at bus-rapid transit is set to begin actual construction this month, MARTA officials said Tuesday.

The five-mile BRT route, now officially called MARTA Rapid Summerhill, will link downtown to neighborhoods such as Summerhill and Peoplestown before ending near the BeltLine’s Southside Trail at a station called Carver. Along the way will be connections to MARTA’s heavy rail system at Five Points, Georgia State, and Garnett Stations.

MARTA predicts traveling the full route from Five Points station to Carver will take between 12 to 15 minutes.

The project marks MARTA’s first new transit line since the Sandy Springs MARTA station opened, way back in the year 2000.

According to MARTA, the transit agency’s contractors will begin BRT construction this month from the route’s southernmost point—the Carver Station location at Ridge Avenue, near the BeltLine’s Southside Trail corridor and the Switchman Hall project—and head north toward downtown from there.

Expect a few traffic detours, periodic street lane and sidewalk closures, and construction noise between working hours of 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Work will include installation of 14 future stops, utility relocation, milling and resurfacing, and sidewalk reconstruction, according to MARTA.

Designs for the BRT route came together between spring 2019 and summer 2022, the same year preliminary utility work moved forward.

MARTA’s original timeline called for breaking ground on the BRT project in August 2022 and beginning service next year, but the project was dogged by skyrocketing building and labor costs, in addition to MARTA’s inexperience with creating new transit lines over the past two decades.

An analysis last year showed the Summerhill route will cost nearly 49 percent more than previously expected, bumping the estimated $61.5 million price tag up to more than $91 million.

MARTA now forecasts that construction on MARTA Rapid Summerhill will wrap up in spring 2025, with passenger service beginning sometime later that year.

The region’s first BRT line, according to MARTA officials, will operate with new 60-foot electric buses. The 14 stops will feature level boarding and be positioned about 1/3-mile apart from each other. (Planned stations on Memorial Drive at Capitol Avenue and Trinity Avenue were eliminated to save costs.)

Each station will include “real-time arrival information and off-board fare collection so you can pay before you board,” MARTA’s announcement noted.

About 85 percent of the corridor will have dedicated bus-only lanes with transit-signal priority, meaning buses shouldn’t be bogged down in traffic and that travel times should be quicker.

Once the line is built, buses are expected to arrive with frequencies between 10 minutes (daytime peak hours) and 20 minutes (late nights and weekend mornings). MARTA has estimated that 2,350 riders will use the service on a daily basis once it opens.

The project is funded by the $2.7-billion MORE MARTA half-penny sales tax for transit approved by voters in 2016 and a federal TIGER grant.

Beyond the Summerhill BRT line, MARTA is moving forward with BRT transportation along the Clifton Corridor near Emory University, on Campbellton Road in Southwest Atlanta, and in Clayton County.

Another four-station BRT route up Ga. Highway 400 with service to Roswell and Alpharetta is also being studied.

Here’s the most recent look at what’s to come between South Downtown and Peoplestown:

By Josh Green, Urbanize Atlanta

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