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The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) announced Wednesday that it has signed a $198.5 million contract to overhaul and upgrade its tunnel ventilation systems.Expected to begin in early 2016, the project advances the agency's ongoing commitment to safe and efficient transit operations, MARTA officials said in a press release."MARTA is ahead of the curve for dedicating a significant portion of its capital improvement budget to upgrading our tunnel ventilation system," said David Springstead, interim assistant general manager of capital programs and development. "In the transit industry, this is the largest single contract focused on this type of enhancement."Archer Western Construction LLC will serve as the primary contractor, while Cleveland Electric, R.F. Knox, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff and up to eight disadvantaged business enterprises will participate as subcontractors.The six-year base contract totals $165 million with an additional $33.5 million in contract options that include an extended warranty, hardware refresh, and provisions for long-term system and operations maintenance, MARTA officials said. The agency's tunnel ventilation system covers about 9 miles of subway tunnel and underground rail stations, representing about one-fifth of the rail system's total footprint. MARTA has identified the renovation and renewal of its aging system as a top priority to maintain optimal functionality and state of good repair, agency officials said.MARTA's ventilation system includes a network of fans and dampers that effectively control and direct air flow during normal rail operations and in emergency situations.