“For MARTA to fully take on the responsibility of doing it down the middle, the cost is so astronomical,” project manager Mark Eatman told councilmembers. “Once you have miles and miles of aerial structure, especially for a train, those are really expensive.”
Councilman Rich Dippolito said he was surprised the cost of running MARTA line down the middle of Ga. 400 was so much more expensive than running it along either the east or west side.
Eatman compared the rail structure to a 12-mile long bridge. “Any time you elevate or put something underground, your costs go up quite significantly compared to if you did it at grade on the ground,” he said.
The Connect 400 project would expand the MARTA line from North Springs to Windward Parkway, although details on station locations — or even the planned type of transportation — remain undetermined.
Eatman said MARTA is still in the process of pinpointing locally preferred alternatives, with an environmental process scheduled to begin by at least early 2015. That portion of the project, he said, was likely to take two to three years.
He said MARTA is working with the Georgia Department of Transportation to use between 40 to 60 feet of their existing right of way for the project. “It’s land that’s already there,” he said. “From a costs-savings standpoint, and from also displacing residents, it drastically reduces that.”
In the interim, Service Planning and Scheduling Manager Kelly Hayden said MARTA will be focusing on a comprehensive operation analysis. He said it was the start of a bus system realignment that would complement the “backbone” of the Ga. 400 project.
“We’ll be getting feedback from the public about what’s important to them,” Hayden said. “Is it transferring or frequency of services, is it Wi-Fi on the buses … what we do is put it all together, and try to make it as convenient as possible for everyone.”
Another component of the analysis, he said, was east-west connectivity.
“We’ve got a system that’s built similar to a bicycle wheel,” he said. “We want to try and move to a grid system, if we possibly can.”
Although he feels confident about obtaining funding through the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, Eatman also said the Connect 400 initiative would require additional funding streams.
“Right now, the current MARTA penny is pretty much stretched as far as it can go,” Eatman said. “We have to be creative going forward and moving with our partners in the region to identify other sources of local funding.”