Rapid bus line paves way for regional transit expansion

At just 2.4 miles from end to end, MARTA’s proposed Capitol Avenue/Summerhill transit line seems like a minor addition to the region’s public transportation network. But the modest line may have an outsized impact. It’s the first of many bus rapid transit lines planned for metro Atlanta, and it will serve as a model for others to come.

“It really sets the stage for the most transformational transit implementation we can do in metro Atlanta,” Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson said.

Bus rapid transit lines can be built at a fraction of the cost of rail lines. According to MARTA, building bus rapid transit costs $20 million to $45 million per mile — compared with $225 million to $275 million for heavy rail and $75 million to $125 million for light rail.

Bus rapid transit borrows features from rail lines to speed things up. The vehicles usually operate in exclusive bus lanes or — in some places — in “express lanes” limited to drivers willing to pay a toll. They stop less frequently than local buses. Passengers board at stations where signs provide real-time information about arriving buses. And passengers pay at the station, not on the bus, which speeds up boarding.

The $58.5 million Capitol Avenue/Summerhill line will open first, in 2024. Preliminary plans for the project offer a glimpse of how bus rapid transit service might look elsewhere.

The line would stretch along Hank Aaron Drive and Capitol Avenue from the Atlanta Beltline to the southern part of downtown, looping around Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Mitchell Street. Along the way, it would pass the Georgia State University Stadium, the Georgia Capitol, Atlanta City Hall and other landmarks. And it would drop passengers near MARTA’s Georgia State and Five Points stations.

The route would serve 12 station areas (some areas would have stations on both sides of the street), spaced about every third of a mile. For most of its length it would run in new bus-only lanes. But it would share lanes with other vehicles in a few spots.

MARTA expects to finish about 30% of the design for the project in the next few weeks, with approval of Federal Transit Administration funding coming in September. Construction would begin in 2022.


By David Wickert, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Map, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Rendering, Pierce Transit, via The Urbanist

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