Atlanta comes up short on federal funds for a streetcar

By Maria Saporta

It’s not looking good for Atlanta winning federal funds for its streetcar proposal.

Atlanta had applied for up to $300 million for its streetcar proposal as part of U.S. Department of Transportation $1.5 billion stimulus program.

Hundreds of communities from around the country had applied for the grants, including 32 in Georgia alone.

The grants were to have been announced by today.

News reports from across the country have indicated that many cities already are celebrating for having won a piece of this $1.5 billion windfall. Federal officials are scheduled to be making announcements in a host of cities, including New York City, Chicago; Kansas City; Normal, Indiana; St. Paul, Minnesota; Albequerque, N.M.; and even Birmingham, Alabama.

But in several email exchanges with city, business and transit officials, no such announcements are planned in Atlanta.

The city’s streetcar application was unique because it was a public-private partnership between the city of Atlanta, MARTA, Central Atlanta Progress and the Midtown Alliance.

The proposal called for building a streetcar line from Five Points to Midtown, and a line from Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia Aquarium to the King Center.

Atlanta’s application had options to just build the connection from Centennial Olympic Park to Auburn Avenue for about $100 million.

But apparently, even that scaled-back proposal did not win any federal funding. That’s despite intense lobbying by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, current Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta).

In a recent interview, Reed expressed some optimism that Atlanta could win at least a portion of its application.

“I think the streetcar’s prospects are looking much better,” Reed said, adding that the application had been “elevated” because Yvette Taylor, the Region IV administrator of the Federal Transit Administration had recommended that the project be approved.

What made this federal funding cycle so attractive is that there was no requirement for a local match, meaning that 100 percent of the approved project cost would have been covered by federal stimulus dollars.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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