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MARTA lays out plans for Clayton County transit future

By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

MARTA says it plans to launch new transfer stations that will make it easier for Clayton County residents to get from one side of the south metro community to the other.

The metro Atlanta transit agency said Wednesday the “mobility hubs” will allow Clayton residents to travel inter-county by hopping on buses that connect with one another at different spots in the community, such as Tara Boulevard or Clayton State University. Right now, Clayton residents can only transfer to other buses at MARTA rail stations, which often take riders far away from their destinations.

“This allows the bus routes to be shorter with more frequent service,” said Tracie Roberson, project manager of the Clayton Transit System Plan. She did not give date for the “mobility hub” build out.

The announcement was one of many unveiled during a Wednesday virtual update of MARTA’s upcoming plans for Clayton. There are also plans for more bus shelters and benches, updates on the site search for a multi-purpose operations and bus maintenance facility and discussion of bringing Arterial Rapid Transit to the community. 

ART buses operate on high capacity routes that run every 15 minutes and are given priority at traffic signals.

The news comes as Clayton ridership has fallen close to 50% because of the coronavirus, MARTA officials said. That is in line with ridership woes across metro Atlanta. 

The agency said it temporarily suspended three of the county’s nine routes as part of its “essential service plan” that prioritized which buses to operate based on ridership.

“The initial decision to make this … change to service was not a decision made lightly,” said Frank Rucker, MARTA chief of capital programs, planning & innovation. “The need for drastic action in the face of the pandemic could not be ignored.”

He did not say when the suspended routes would return to service.

Despite the drop-off in ridership, the agency went forward in July with the launch of a transit hub at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center in Clayton that included parking spaces, improved pedestrian walkways and crosswalks and upgraded shelters. The project was the first of two phases set for the facility, which will include an onsite MARTA breeze ticketing machine, digital signage and more shelter when completed in 2023, he said.

He also said Clayton can expected new benches and shelters at 30 locations in 2020, and an additional 30 in 2021. Clayton currently has 635 bus stops and 48 shelters.

MARTA is in the site selection process for the multi-purpose operations and bus maintenance facility, Rucker said. The 105,000-square-foot maintenance facility — for which MARTA received a $13 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant in August — is planned for 30 to 35 acres in north Clayton County and is slated to open in 2026. The facility will create about 350 jobs and cost about $116 million, MARTA said.

Jeff Turner, chairman of the Clayton County Commission, said he is pleased by MARTA’s progress. He said the site selection process is probably down to one or two places and that the idea of making it easier for Clayton residents to travel inter-county is a winner for residents.

“Anytime we can simplify somebody’s travels, especially in and around Clayton County, is good for our citizens,” he said.