Atlanta has taken a key step to add some 60 miles of new rail line and highway lanes to its public transportation service under a plan passed by transit officials Mar. 14.

The expansion, with estimated costs of up to $2 billion, has two major components, an 18-mile spur along Interstate 20 to the east of the city and a 40-plus-mile rail loop through Atlanta’s interior, dubbed “the inner core.”

The Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and the community have agreed upon a final plan for the I-20 east corridor. The project now moves into an 18-month environmental study phase that is required before construction could begin. The project will receive 50% of its funding by the Federal Transit Authority.

“The I-20 east expansion will be an 18-mile fixed guideway bus-rapid transit system,” says Thelma Purnell, director of transit system planning for MARTA. The fixed guideway system consists of two new lanes built solely for bus traffic at a cost of $400 million. MARTA intends to eventually build a rail system to replace the bus lanes when demand increases. “The bus system is a temporary, transitional solution,” says Purnell. Click here to view map

The inner core is a rail system that will connect major sites in downtown Atlanta. The details of the project have yet to be worked out, but the project is expected to cost between $600 million and $1.5 billion. The MARTA board gave this project a priority. The vote marks the beginning of a nine-month planning phase, during which MARTA will develop several design possibilities. The city and MARTA will then choose a plan together, says Purnell.

With half the inner core’s funding coming from the FTA, the remainder will be raised locally, mostly though the creation of a tax allocation district. The tax district will also be used to fund construction of parks along the path of the rail, a plan called “the emerald necklace,” says Purnell.