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MARTA To Meet With Feds About Millions To Expand Transit

MARTA CEO Keith Parker is scheduled to meet with federal transportation officials in Washington, D.C., next week about more than $20 million in potential funding for a nearly seven-mile, $42.3 million bus-rapid-transit line along Northside Drive and Metropolitan Parkway.

MARTA plans show a bus line beginning in the north at I-75, and running south all the way to Atlanta Metropolitan State College with potential stops in a number of highly trafficked areas: Atlantic Station, Georgia Tech, the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Phillips Arena, Atlanta University Center and the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail.

The buses would run in dedicated lanes.

“The buses can travel from end to end with almost a guaranteed travel time of about 20 minutes, which is quite a feat for that type of corridor,” Parker said. “We’ll be running every 10 minutes, morning, noon and night, as well as on the weekends.”

The bulk of the money would come from a pot of $500 million in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant program.

Another $7.5 million grant would be for five new natural gas or electric buses, and the associated infrastructure to be used along the Northside Drive corridor.

As to whether Atlanta will actually get the federal money, “[The meeting] is not a bad sign, that’s for sure,” said Peter Angelides of Econsult Solutions in Philadelphia, which helps cities win TIGER grants.

“It could be for clarification; it could be for something else; it could be to request modifications,” Angelides said.

After winning a $47.6 million grant for the Atlanta Streetcar, the area didn’t draw any grants from the most recent $500 million pot of TIGER grant money. The applications for the area in 2015 included an additional $30 million to expand the streetcar.

The Atlanta City Council on Monday, by a 14-0 vote, approved a referendum that would allow voters to decide if they’re willing to pay an additional half-penny sales tax to fund MARTA expansion in the city.

The transit agency estimates the referendum would help raise $2.5 billion.

The more than $20 million in potential federal funding wouldn’t be enough to pay for the entire Northside Drive bus-rapid-transit route.

Parker said the agency sees demand in the area, and that the referendum money isn’t essential for the Northside Drive bus to be fully funded. He said it could come from other parts of the MARTA budget.

“We think the fact that we will be providing a very significant local match … we think it will help our chances quite a bit,” Parker said.

Angelides said the feds want to send money to projects that local agencies and officials are committed to.

“A local match is very important. The higher the local match, the more likely the project is to be selected,” Angelides said.