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MARTA advancing $338M Clayton County bus rapid transit project

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(The Center Square) — The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is moving forward with a bus rapid transit link to Clayton County.

With approval from its board, MARTA will solicit proposals for final design services for a 15.5-mile alignment and a potential Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport connection. The project, which proposes at least 13 stations with “rail-like amenities” such as level boarding and off-board fare payment, is slated to cost $338 million.

A MARTA spokesperson confirmed to The Center Square the project has been accepted into the Federal Transit Authority Capital Investment Grant Small Starts Program, which can provide a federal grant of up to $150 million. The grant amount has yet to be determined.

“MARTA will continue to work with Clayton County to leverage additional federal, state and local funding sources as they are available,” the spokesperson said in an email. “The balance of the project’s cost will come from the sales tax collected in Clayton County that has been set aside for Clayton’s capital expansion program since it began being collected in 2015.”

Collen Clark, a lawyer and founder of Schmidt & Clark LLP, a national law firm, told The Center Square the project could have several benefits and challenges for Georgia taxpayers.

On the positive side, the project could “improve the mobility and accessibility of Clayton County residents, who currently have limited transit options and face traffic congestion and long travel times,” Clark said in an email. It could also “enhance the economic development and growth of Clayton County, by attracting new businesses, jobs, and investments to the area” while reducing “the environmental impact of transportation, by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from cars.”

Conversely, it could “increase the tax burden on Clayton County residents, who already pay a 1% sales tax for MARTA services,” although they might “not see a return on their investment for several years,” Clark added.

The project could face technical and operational challenges, such as designing and building the infrastructure, acquiring the land, and maintaining service quality and reliability. It could also encounter legal and political hurdles, including securing federal approval and local support and resolving potential conflicts with other jurisdictions and stakeholders.

“In conclusion, the Clayton Southlake BRT project is a complex and ambitious initiative that could have significant implications for Georgia taxpayers,” Clark added. “As a lawyer, I think that the project has merit and potential but also requires careful planning and evaluation.

“I think that the project should be transparent and accountable to the public and that the taxpayers should have a voice and a choice in the decision-making process.”

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