MARTA wants input on rail to Windward

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NORTH FULTON, Ga. – As part of its continuing efforts to bring increased public transportation through North Fulton, the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) held more public meetings to gather input on what should [or not] be done north of the Chattahoochee River.

MARTA is focusing on the Ga. 400 corridor because of the significant change in the corridor over the last decade. A dramatic increase in jobs, population and density has spurred the transit authority to pay a little more attention north of the river. The study area is just short of 12 miles long – from North Springs station in Sandy Springs, along Ga. 400 to Windward Parkway in Alpharetta.

Several stations are proposed along the route, including Northridge, Holcomb Bridge Road and North Point Mall.

“We heard people wanted more opportunities for input on the alternatives considered,” said Janide Sidifall, a MARTA planning representative.

MARTA has been soliciting public input and conducting studies for several years now on its expansion. Beyond a basic desire, the system has sought to learn just what kind of transportation the residents want – bus, light rail or heavy rail.

There are trade-offs.

• Light rail is the most expensive because MARTA would have to build new storage buildings for the cars.

• Heavy rail would be somewhere in the middle, in terms of cost because it would be a continuation of what they already have.

• Bus rapid transit is by far the cheaper option and easier to implement. Buses would almost certainly be needed to supplement light or heavy rail if and when it comes.

Heavy rail is what MARTA uses up until the North Springs station. It is what people often think about when talking about trains.

Light rail is similar but carries fewer passengers. However, as usage fluctuates, it is easier to add or subtract cars from the train than it would be with heavy rail.

Bus rapid transit is a heavy bus system similar to trains but they run on streets.

“We want people to understand what the trade-offs are so they can make an educated decision,” Sidifall said. “It’s not just a matter of putting a rail line down the corridor. It’s making it complement the area of operation. That rail has to be supported.”

That means new bus routes and bus stops east-west.

For some residents, expanding MARTA is a no-brainer.

“If we are an international city, we need a better means of transit,” said Salpi Adrouny, of Johns Creek.

She was placing sticky notes on maps giving suggestions on what she wants and where.

“No rail on the west side” of Ga. 400 was a popular note with attendees of the July 10 meeting. Adrouny said she uses MARTA at least once a month to travel to the airport.

“I can’t think of a more relaxed way to get to the airport,” she said.

According to MARTA officials, she is not alone. A Kennesaw State University study called 1,000 residents and employees in the area. It found that the vast majority of people want some form of increased public transportation.

Eighty percent of residents asked for some form of transportation, with 40 percent asking for heavy rail. Employees were more supportive of rail. In the survey, 68 percent of employees said they wanted heavy rail.

“It’s going to be part of the future,” said Al Nash, executive director of Progress Partners North Fulton Atlanta, the economic development arm of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce. “We have to look at some form of transit to remain competitive. We are a big importer of labor here [in North Fulton]. We need the infrastructure to get people to live and do business here.”

Some residents were not so convinced.

Tom Miller, who lives in the Windward neighborhood, said he and all of North Fulton have been paying the MARTA penny tax for years now, yet there are only four bus routes north of the river.

“It hasn’t changed [in years],” he said. “Milton and Johns Creek have nothing.”

Alpharetta City Councilman Jim Gilvin was cautiously optimistic about MARTA’s plans.

“I’m not sure why there is such a heavy push for something that is not affordable or practical,” he said, referring to proposed rail improvements.

Gilvin said he was more in favor of the bus system, but he criticized MARTA putting four stations in Alpharetta, yet overlooking the upcoming Avalon and Gwinnett Tech College developments on Old Milton Parkway.

“That’s the No. 1 place,” he said. “It makes no sense to do it and not have it there.”

Brandon Beach, president of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, also pointed to the penny sales tax for MARTA.

“We have been paying that for years and have no service. It’s time to get our investment back. There are more than 900 technology companies alone in this corridor,” said Beach. “Those young workers have grown up where they take transit or ride bikes. They often don’t own automobiles. We need those options available.”

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