Last October’s opening of the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail was a major event: the 3-mile trail connecting southwest Atlanta neighborhoods from Adair Park to Washington Park was arguably the largest above-ground investment in the area since MARTA was built decades prior, and the path offered residents a new option to get around town, exercise, or socialize.
But with its abrupt endpoints at University Avenue and Lena Street, the segment was essentially an island. Pedaling along the path to the Beltline’s wildly popular Eastside Trail would have to wait until the day the city purchased the 4.5-mile segment envisioned to become the Southside Trail: an overgrown, now-unused railroad corridor stretching past Grant Park and Chosewood Park, among other neighborhoods.
We’re one big step closer to that day. Thursday, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will announce that the city and Atlanta BeltLine Inc. (ABI), the nonprofit planning and developing the project, has struck a $25.8 million deal with CSX to purchase the segment.
That deal, the city says, is effectively “closing the loop” on the BeltLine, establishing official control of three segments that will create a virtually seamless linear park and trail system. In addition, the CSX purchase includes a rail spur that connects to the Oakland City MARTA station, creating a direct link to the transit spine of metro Atlanta.
It’s difficult to put into words just how big a deal this is for the $4.5 billion project hatched by Ryan Gravel as a graduate student at Georgia Tech. Once construction of the remaining trails are complete, a bicyclist will be able to pedal from Armour Yards in northeast Atlanta, past Piedmont Park, Ponce City Market, and Old Fourth Ward, down past Grant Park, and all the way through southwest Atlanta to Washington Park—nearly entirely along on a paved, protected trail. Mixed-use development is already sprouting along the segment in anticipation of its construction.
The deal has been years in the works, and its timeline was uncertain shortly after the Great Recession when a concrete plant near Glenwood Park continued to rely on train service. Two and a half years ago activists laid dozens of plywood boards along the dormant rail segment to create a makeshift trail in hopes of spurring ABI and the freight company to reach a deal.
Angel Poventud, one of the city’s most vocal BeltLine advocates, lives in an Adair Park home that backs up to the Westside Trail not far from where it will connect with the Southside Trail. When he bought his house nearly seven years ago, he says, trains were still running on the tracks.
“When Ryan Gravel was dreaming this big project, this was an active freight corridor that we would never have,” Poventud says. “But the dream was there. This [sale] changes everything.”
The news raises additional questions: Will the purchase speed up the construction of the Southside Trail, which is currently in the design phase? What will happen to Hulsey Yard, the CSX rail facility that churns along in the middle of booming neighborhoods like Cabbagetown and Inman Park? When will trails connecting the northwest segment that passes through the Westside and Buckhead link to Lindbergh, effectively creating the original loop vision?
Expect answers to some of those questions at 2 p.m., when Bottoms will be joined at City Hall by Brian McGowan, the CEO of ABI, and Craig Camuso, CSX’s regional vice president of state government affairs, to officially announce the purchase.