Where is the More MARTA money going?
The estimated $2.5 billion raised is currently allocated to 17 projects (depending on who is counting). The funding is primarily for rail and bus service, with 63% going to rail projects ($1.6 billion), 31% to bus projects ($771 million), and 6% for station enhancements and “general amenities” ($157 million).
Note that these costs include all local funds dedicated to the project, including both capital expenditures, maintenance, and operations. I didn’t include the costs that would (in theory) be covered by federal matching funds in this analysis.
Distribution within each mode
Nearly all the rail investments proposed are for new lines, with one notable exception: $100 million for operations of the existing Atlanta Streetcar route. Within the rail investments, there are actually two different modes: light rail and streetcar. These aren’t the same. The Federal Transit Administration defines light rail as operating within a dedicated right of way, and streetcar as operating within mixed traffic. In the table below, I’ve detailed the expenditures, forecasted ridership, and mileage for each project, and percentages for which each project accounts in the specific mode. For example, the Clifton Corridor represents 31% of rail funding proposed, 50% of the forecasted ridership for rail investments, and 17% of rail track mileage in the More MARTA proposal.
I presented each of these metrics because they offer a more complete picture of project scopes and impacts. Considering only a single aspect of projects leaves us with a limited understanding of their value. One line may account for relatively little mileage, but substantial new ridership. Others may account for little projected ridership, but the mileage they add significantly improves connectivity within the city.
In the above table, the Clifton Corridor, most of the Crosstown East, and the SW and NE BeltLine segments operate within dedicated right of way. In terms of the total rail mileage in the plan, about 66% is in a dedicated right of way (ROW), and 33% is in mixed traffic. However, as my colleague Simon Berrebi has pointed out, any portion of a service in mixed traffic influences operations on the entire line, effectively acting as a bottleneck of sorts. Putting the crosstown lines in mixed traffic would be a major missed opportunity. I have some ideas about how to make the LRT proposed into true LRT. It’ll take political willpower, but if we’re going to spend all this money on a transit system, it needs to be world class.
Unlike the proposed rail projects, the bus investments include improvements to already existing lines, as well as creating new services. Broadly speaking, the bus projects can be split into three categories: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Arterial Rapid Transit (ART), and local service improvements.
Currently, no BRT lines exist in Atlanta. All proposed BRT projects would therefore be new. Depending on who you speak with, BRT can operate in dedicated ROW or mixed traffic with improvements that speed up service such as signal priority and all-door boarding. The More MARTA proposal defines BRT as sometimes operating in dedicated ROW, but also operating in mixed traffic (editorial note: I strongly believe that BRT should only operate in dedicated ROW, but will detail that in a later post).
Note here that the bus projects differ from the rail projects in that they are mostly being implemented on routes that already have bus service. These projects typically upgrade that service (to BRT or ART), or increase the frequency of buses on routes that already exist. Furthermore, the routes are typically longer than the rail lines. There is, however, some notable variation within the BRT and ART projects, outlined in the tables below.
The BRT lines have some interesting nuances. Campbellton Road has a BRT line proposed on the same ROW as the LRT line. In the technical analysis, MARTA notes that the BRT will be scaled up gradually from BRT to LRT (note: Campbellton is also slated for an ART line). It’s unclear if the cost estimates for LRT/BRT include costs that would be incurred to scale the service up over time rather than building one mode, alone.
Capitol Avenue, while a very short line, is projected to have very high ridership, among the highest estimated in the More MARTA technical analysis. However, there’s an interesting wrinkle with this project. There’s $12.5 million in federal matching dollars. Why is that weird? Two reasons:
MARTA’s assumption for matching federal funds is only otherwise applied to projects that cost $150 million or more. Capitol Avenue BRT budgeted for $76 million total.
The Capitol Avenue line does not fund the full cost of the proposed BRT to extend from Summerhill to Midtown. It’s unclear why this was changed to BRT, and would not complete the line as proposed.
Arterial Rapid Transit Projects
All ART projects proposed are upgrades to existing services (current line noted parenthetically in the table). Unlike the “general” service improvements, these lines will get some special treatment (with good reason!). Most likely, these new lines will have articulated buses, improved stations, and signal priority. If we’re lucky, maybe the stops will display real-time arrival information.
These projects are likely to be the first “new” services/modes that are implemented as a result of the More MARTA program. Some of the other service improvements are already underway. Adding ART service is an excellent step in the right direction for MARTA and the city. We need more creative thinking for transit, and this is a great example of it.
Many of the service improvements are already coming online. The $210 million for service improvements represents a substantial commitment to bus services, and these improvements are already online. There isn’t any information on how much is dedicated to each route. However, the technical analysis notes that the bus service improvements are spread across five routes: 12 (Howell Mill/Cumberland), 49 (McDonough Blvd.), 51 (Joseph E. Boone Blvd), 55 (Jonesboro Rd/Hutchens/Forest Pky), and the 60 (Hightower/Moore’s Mill). In addition, local circulators will operate in Centennial Olympic Park, Castleberry Hill, Atlanta Medical Center, Ashview Heights/Mozley Park, Elmco Estates, and West Atlanta. Several of these circulators are already operating under the “Local Motion” brand, and I’ve seen a few driving around downtown already. Unlike the improvements to the above routes, the circulator routes required new rolling stock. They feature 30-foot vehicles, while the other service improvements simply increase the frequency of buses on those routes.
Historic Level of Investment
In their technical analysis, MARTA applied a weighting to account for areas that have traditionally not received high levels of investment. This was effectively a binary criteria on whether the project was located on or south of I-20, or west of Northside Drive, as both areas have a history of under-investment. Seven projects were categorized as such, and 10 in areas of high investment. Four were categorized as NA (e.g. the general “station enhancements” line, which are spread around the city). Notably, 24% of expenditures occur in areas of low investment, and 70% of those expenditures are dedicated to the three Campbellton Road projects.
One note here: MARTA considers BeltLine rail projects to occur in areas of “medium-high” investment regardless of whether they are west of Northside, or south of I-20. I assume this is because the BeltLine itself is a large investment. If we put the SW BeltLine and Crosstown Downtown West lines into the “low” category, the table changes slightly.
One could also reasonably argue that many of the bus service improvements are also located in areas with historically low investment. That would bring areas with low investment up to about $1.17 billion, which is nearly even with the $1.2 billion spent in other areas of the city.
At $503 million for capital and operations costs, the Clifton Corridor accounts for 21% of the local funds in the More MARTA program. This is a hefty price tag, but the project is forecasted to account for 20% of the assumed ridership increases.
While the Clifton Corridor has the highest price tag, Campbellton Road actually receives the second highest amount of local funds. The costs are split into 3 projects, scaling gradually from ART to BRT to LRT over time, accounting for $421.3 million in local funds in the project, about 18% of planned investments.
After these two corridors, no single corridor receives more than 10% of funds.
That's it for now, but hopefully this summarizes how the proposed projects break down. Next, I plan to post something detailing the More MARTA ridership forecasts, how MARTA arrived at those numbers, and comparisons between the different projects.