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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Beltline Network special meeting called over GDOT, AMTRAK dispute

Man, the Beltline can be pretty confusing, huh? So can writing about transit agency disputes.

To put it plainly: The vision of a 22-mile loop of transit, parks and trails is now in jeopardy after the state Department of Transportation and AMTRAK unexpectedly announced they had their own heavy-rail plans for the project's northeast section along Piedmont Park.

On Wednesday, members of the Beltline Network, a citizen group that supports the project, will meet for a special-called meeting to discuss how to keep the $2.4 billion "Emerald Necklace" — the largest public-works project of its kind in the country — on track.

Liz Coyle, chair of the Beltline Network, writes in an "urgent" e-mail sent yesterday to members (emphasis added for the more civic-minded Fresh Loaf readers who want to get involved):

I am calling a special meeting of the BeltLine Network on this Wednesday, January 28, at 4:30pm at Trees Atlanta, 225 Chester Avenue. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss and strategize a community response to a threat to BeltLine transit. I will provide more details as available at the meeting, but to summarize the situation and get right to the point, AMTRAK has begun condemnation proceedings on the NE Corridor of the BeltLine. This is in response to Norfolk Southern Railroad (NSR), Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) and Atlanta Development Authority (ADA) pursuing rail abandonment on the Northeast Corridor (aka the "Decatur Belt") with the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), a necessary step to advancing light rail transit in the BeltLine corridor. Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and AMTRAK have filed Motions to Stay the abandonment proceedings.

More on Coyle's e-mail and the issues — and questions — surrounding this dispute after the jump.

Coyle's e-mail urges members to call the Governor's office and GDOT. She also says Mayor Shirley Franklin, Atlanta Beltline Inc., MARTA and the Atlanta Development Authority are seeking help from Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss along with U.S. Congressman John Lewis. Several years ago, she writes, AMTRAK and GDOT considered running heavy freight and high-speed intercity rail along the tracks near Piedmont Park, but that seemed unlikely after the state's largest transportation agencies — including GDOT — approved a new regional vision for people moving called Concept 3. The Atlanta Regional Commission also recommended the commuter rail run on tracks in the city's western half.

So it looks like AMTRAK is trying to keep its options open. And judging by recent comments and concerns in the business community about the state's ability to handle freight traffic, GDOT might be feeling the same way.

And does this become a question of "which do you prefer?" Commuter rail or the Beltline?

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