Atlanta leaders hope streetcar proposal will win in second round of U.S. TIGER grants

Maybe the second time will be the charm.

The City of Atlanta hopes the federal government will give its streetcar plan a green light during the second round of TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants.

City leaders are presenting their revised streetcar proposal to the Atlanta City Council this week and need the full council’s approval before July 16 when pre-applications are to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Atlanta and Georgia did not fare well during the first round of TIGER grants — when $1.5 billion were distributed to transportation projects across the nation. In the first round, the federal government was offering 100 percent of the funding.

This round is not quite as generous. Only $600 million will be allocated in this round, and all projects will require at least a 20 percent local match to secure 80 percent in federal funds.

But the City of Atlanta is not deterred.

In the current application, the city is proposing a 2.6 mile East-West loop that would have 13 stops between Centennial Olympic Park and the historic district along Edgewood and Auburn avenues, going as far as the King Center.

The total project cost $72.1 million, and the city plans to apply for $52 million in federal funding and provide $20 million in local funding, according to Luz Borrero, deputy chief operating officer for the City of Atlanta.

By comparison, in the first round of TIGER grants, the city applied for nearly $300 million for 9.2 miles — including the East-West loop as well as building out the first phase of a streetcar on Peachtree Street going up towards Brookwood Station.

“We learned from the first time around what the U.S. DOT wanted,” Borrero said, adding that federal officials wanted to projects to serve as many people as possible and that they wanted to see “local enthusiasm” for projects. “I was told: ‘We really want to see more skin in the game.’”

As part of this application, the city is proposing to invest $10 million in general obligation bonds and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District will provide the other $10 million.

The streetcar proposal has the strong backing of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has been promoting the project whenever he’s had meetings with federal officials.

This time the mayor also can point to the recent passage of a transportation bill in the Georgia legislature — a bill that will permit regions around the state to vote on a 1-cent sales tax in 2012.

The city’s application, however, doesn’t anticipate revenue from that tax or from the state for this round of TIGER grants.

It is estimated that the East-West loop will cost about $2.2 million a year to operate. The city is proposing to provide $1 million in annual operating funds would come from hotel-motel taxes and car-rental taxes. The remaining $1.2 million in operating funds would come from fares, and possible revenues from advertising, concessions as well as from tourist venues.

Because this phase of the streetcar project is only located in downtown Atlanta, the Midtown Alliance and the Buckhead community are not currently involved. But it is anticipated they would join in when the city is able to develop/expand the streetcar up and down Peachtree Street.

Ultimately, the idea would be to have a streetcar running North-South from Fort McPherson to Brookhaven as well as the East-West loop.

If the Atlanta City Council approves the project and the city submits its pre-application proposal on July 16, then the formal application will be due August 23. The federal government is expected to decide by the end of the year which communities will receive the TIGER II grants.

“I think it’s going to be as competitive as the previous round,” Borrero said. “I don’t think it’s going to be any less difficult to compete for these funds.”

Hundreds of communities applied for TIGER grants in the first round. Georgia ended up with nothing. The same was true with high speed rail grant dollars. Although several neighboring states won substantial grants, Georgia received only a few planning dollars.

Unfortunately, Georgia is at a political disadvantage in getting federal funds. All of the top state leaders are Republican, including the governor, the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house and the two U.S. senators. That means state leaders have limited access to key members of President Barack Obama’s administration.

Interestingly enough, these TIGER grants will be announced after the November election when there is an even chance that Georgia voters will elect a Democratic governor.

Of course, it’s too early to know what impact the November elections would have on Atlanta’s streetcar grant.

At least Atlanta has not given up on the idea of developing streetcars as a way to round out its transit network — complementing its MARTA rail and bus system.

“To me this project is a generational project,” Borrero said. “This will create a complete transformation in downtown and the overall Edgewood corridor.”

Perhaps Atlanta’s fortunes will improve during this round of grants. If the U.S. DOT endorses the streetcar project, then Georgia will finally be able to re-enter the transit game.

About Maria Saporta

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.
This entry was posted in Maria's Metro. Bookmark the permalink.
27 comments
Yr1215
Yr1215

Westside ATL, I agree with a lot of your points. Although, as I understand it, they do have an operating funding plan available.

In regards to the shortcomings of the plan fundamentals, I guess from my perspective, if it gets funded by the feds, I feel like half a loaf is better than none. In other words, a project is a start. We have to get off the starting line. But you are absolutely correct that the route and plans display a lot of weaknesses on the fundamentals, and that is a cause for concern.

WestsideATL
WestsideATL

Local funding is an issue - particularly for operating. Mayor Reeds saying, "we'll find a way," is not going to satisfy the feds. Another issue could be that there hasn't really been any sort of alternatives analysis or systems plan (at least that was shared with the public) for the streetcar. Is Auburn/Edgewood really the best corridor to build our first streetcar line on (particularly when you want your first project to be a success that will compel action on future streetcar lines)? Does the alignment going over to the COP/Aquarium make sense? It appears that most of these decisions have been make in some smoky back room and not out in the public discourse.

We'll see... I'm hoping for the best, but other cities seem to have their acts far more together than we do.

mark
mark

Yr1215, I was only talking about the current density limitations. Downtown/Midtown/Buckhead aren't really constrained significantly by what the city will allow for density. So, I was just saying other parts of the city where LRT would be proposed should have higher density allowed by right in their zoning code.

I agree w/ you on the need to increase density in the central portions of the city still, but I believe that will continue to happen once the housing market settles down a bit.

Yr1215
Yr1215

Mark, I agree with your points. I would argue though, that even the broader downtown / midtown / buckhead areas need to increase density (including the beltline corridor) unless you're just strictly speaking of the Peachtree St. spine, which does have the requisite density.

mark
mark

Wow, most comments ever! Ok, a couple of things to comment on. For InAtl: 1) the I-85 project (which I'm not a huge fan of until some redesign work is done & unfunded) is a pilot project funded by the feds, so I don't think they would think of using that against us. Plus, it includes a huge expansion of Xpress. 2) I agree w/ the need for light rail to Atlantic Station, but at least the last time I checked the city still has not taken ownership of the roads over from the developer. My guess is that you will not even hear discussion of light rail there until either the city has ownership or the developer does it themselves.

And Yr1215, you are dead on with the density thing. Unless more density is going to be allowed upfront, then there may be no point in doing LRT outside of downtown/midtown/buckhead areas.

The route I'd like to see would be down North Ave, take it from Northside thru Tech, tie into North Ave MARTA, then on Moreland Ave. It would be great for Tech, and it would work really well for expansions on the west side and east side down Moreland through Lil'5 and on to East Atlanta Village for a loop through it.

atlantaphotog
atlantaphotog

Yr1215... you will most likely never see a change in MARTA management style unless the State actually took over the system and fired everyone and replaced them with competent people. It's like a little "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" mafia over at that place, very similar to the way Atlanta City government has been run the last couple of decades. Until change starts at the core, it will never be more efficiently run than it is today.

Yr1215
Yr1215

Sorry for the cynicism. I just returned from Portland, with a core population smaller than ours, and a metro population less than 1/2 our size, with a magnificent light rail transit system. Spotless, efficient, frequent service, good city coverage with continuing expansion. It just makes Atlanta and MARTA look downright pathetic. Oh, and they've even funded it so significant portions are even free (although I don't entirely agree with this idea).

Yr1215
Yr1215

One final thought, and I'll quit. MARTA could have built miles and miles of light rail over the last 20 years, which we could be using today, with excess funds if they had not chosen to stupidly fund wasteful 90% empty bus routes and overpay union employees.

MARTA's history is just incredibly pathetic. Hopefully new management will see the light and transition MARTA from a jobs program and "serve the poor" system to an efficient system that serves everyone, rich and poor. That will be a path to better prosperity for the city and for MARTA.

Yr1215
Yr1215

Oh yes, and as others have commented, the Streetcar must at least have signal priority, and would ideally have dedicated lanes on busy streets.

Yr1215
Yr1215

Hm. A lot to comment on here, but I'll try to keep my thoughts as short as possible.

1. The E-W line is a good proposal in the sense that it is not duplicative and gets us off the starting block.
2. The E-W line is bad in the sense it will not really serve that many people and may perform very poorly financially.
3. Light rail is the future for our densifying city.
4. A light rail line North-South on Peachtree is duplicative of MARTA rail, UNTIL you get North of Arts Center.
5. Best possible light rail candidates in my opinion, in order of potential success: Peachtree St. from Arts Center to Buckhead MARTA; E-W North Avenue from Bankhead MARTA to Beltline (perhaps too close to proposed new line); E-W on 10th St. / Virginia Ave from Northside to N. Highland; N-S on Northside Drive south of I-75. The advantage with these proposals are they integrate with existing MARTA rail rather than being duplicative.
6. ALL NEW LIGHT RAIL SHOULD BE CONTINGENT ON THE NEIGHBORHOOD PERMITTING SIGNIFICANT UPZONING OF ADJACENT PROPERTY WITHIN 1/2 MILE OF THE TRACK OR STATIONS for ALL projects after this one (including the Beltline rail). None of this works without density, and future light rail should be contingent on neighborhoods pre-emptively upzoning to the necessary density.

Let's all pray this one goes through though.... trail and error is the best (really only) way to learn and improve.

atlantaphotog
atlantaphotog

It just feels like everything they ever do here is so unplanned and improperly visioned.

WHY wouldn't they have a street car that does a solid loop the runs through the main Aquarium/Park area, East to Zoo Atlanta and Little Five Points, and back again? Tourists would LIVE on that thing all day long. It could be expanded later to incorporate office and residential areas, but Atlanta desperately needs a rail route to ferry tourists to ALL the major attractions - not just those that involve Civil Rights icons.

Mike
Mike

I forgot to add... the streetcar will replace buses along Peachtree and the loop. If you don't want to deal with the streetcar, you can take Piedmont, Juniper/Courtland, West Peachtree, Spring Street, or Peachtree Center Avenue as alternate routes.

Please see the bigger picture here - the streetcar will help us create a more vibrant city. It will help make the city more attractive to tourists, people who want to live in the city, businesses, and developers. Besides, this is a city of Atlanta project, not a metro project. A lot of our traffic problems are metro problems. When the other counties decide to get on board with transit then we can begin to solve our transportation issues. Until then (hopefully 2012), the city needs to do what it can to stay competitive and prosper.

Mike
Mike

I don't think the idea of the streetcar is to help reduce congestion. I think it's more about improving Downtown/Midtown and creating a more vibrant, urban city. I live in Midtown and if there was a streetcar up and down Peachtree I know I would use it all the time (also, they should really think about adding a spur line to Atlantic Station). I think the loop is a good start - Downtown has a lot of potential and I think the streetcar will help turn it around.

BPJ
BPJ

I work in the Equitable Building, and I have to say that over the past decade GSU has played a major role in creating a sense of place, for itself and Downtown. Walking along Broad Street is like walking through a college town. Students are all over the lunch spots, and are living Downtown in greater numbers.

Agreed with Darin: the stretch of Peachtree from Arts Center up to Lenox MARTA stations is in the greatest need of frequent bus service.

Adam
Adam

Darin,

You are probably right that the 10th street isn't feasible.

I hope you are right about GSU students using it. I still get no "sense of place" when I'm near GSU. I don't even know when I'm near GSU. I would like to see that school become more of an anchor of the neighborhood.

Darin
Darin

InAtl -- I like your idea of prepay stations for the 110 bus. Does this kind of thing exist anywhere for a non-BRT bus route?

I'll join with you and BPJ: running the Peach bus every 10 minutes would be great. If I could count on it coming every 10 minutes, I'd be using it a lot more often. This would be especially helpful on the Brookwood/South Buckhead section of Peachtree Rd where there is no MARTA train station nearby.

InAtl
InAtl

110 route going to 10 minutes between Arts Center and Buckhead would be good. Also the fact it goes to 30 minute headways after 930 is unfortunate. Another problem with the 110 is people fumbling for fares when they get on the bus. Install prepay stations and provide signal priority http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=36838

InAtl
InAtl

Would it be that horrible to take away 2 lanes from 10th or 14th street for a street car? While the 14th street bridge was being replaced we were without its lanes for over a year.

Btw the Atlantic Station Shuttle from Arts Center Station to Atlantic Station has a lot of riders, standing room only sometimes. So there is demand, and that's without meaningful accomodation. Unfortunately the Bus/shuttle only lane on 17th Street appears to not be enforced. I regularly see cars using that lane and have never seen an officer pulling people over.

Unrelated, but related to our lack of commitment are the highly touted bike lanes on the "revitalized" Peachtree in Buckhead. They no longer have visible striping which is:
A. indication that we don't have the desire to maintain the bike line or
B. indication that there is significant cross over by vehicles into this lane thus more rapidly wearing off the striping and thus indicative of a lack of enforcement.

And I apologize for carrying on, but I feel the need to mention Buford Highway, incredible pedestrian and transit use. Maybe the only corridor with MARTA and Private transit! Yet much of it still doesn't have sidewalks but it does 7 lanes for cars (3 each way plus the continuous center turn (death) lane.

InAtl
InAtl

"Unfortunately, Georgia is at a political disadvantage in getting federal funds. All of the top state leaders are Republican, including the governor, the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house and the two U.S. senators. That means state leaders have limited access to key members of President Barack Obama’s administration."

That may be part of it, however I would argue that the bigger reason for our political disadvantage comes from a track record in Atlanta of providing transit only as an after thought - or providing transit only when it involves increased road capacity for cars.

Latest example being our lame brain attempt to use transit dollars to convert the HOV lanes into Managed/Lexus lanes on I-85.

If we want to show we are serious about revitalizing a corridor and making it more multi modal we can't just slap a street car in with 6 lanes of auto traffic.

Its time to get serious and think about ways to reroute traffic. We can create some non car corridors and still move the cars on our other streets. Perhaps trying to get a way from the set up that creates speedways on our downtown streets (West Peachtree, Courtland, Piedmont, etc.) Many other cities are doing it with success as we speak. Lets start with the cheaper solutions or at least agree to them, then maybe we'd have some political clout by finally backing up our words with actions!

Darin
Darin

Adam -- I think it would be great to have some fast, E/W transit connectivity between West Midtown and Central Midtown. But I suspect running a train on the interstate overpass on 10th street would be cost prohibitive since the bridge would need to be widened to accommodate it.

So that's yet another way in which the interstates that plow through the center of the city can screw up the flow of traffic within the city.

Don't discount the potential use of the proposed Auburn line. There are many downtown tourists who want to visit the King Center and also many GSU students, residents and workers downtown who could take advantage of an extra transit line for connection to all the great places on Edgewood (one block south of Auburn) that have popped up in the last few years: Dynamic Dish, Corner Tavern, Pizzeria Vesuvius, Danneman's, Cafe Circa and more.

I know that I would certainly love using a streetcar to help me make my Saturday pilgrimage to the (awesome) Sweet Auburn Curb Market without a car.

InAtl
InAtl

I believe it was a year or two after the Olympics that I wrote a letter to the editor and some others urging that this route from centennial park through Sweet Auburn be converted into a pedestrian mall with large sidewalks to accommodate outdoor patios. Buses would be the only motorized vehicles allowed.

I think shutting the corridor down to traffic with the right bus service would have a bigger impact than the trolley.

But I do agree a trolley makes more sense here than on Peachtree. And a trolley on a corridor not open to traffic would be even better.

adam
adam

An East-West line along 10th connecting Piedmont Park to Westside and Tech would get a lot more use.

Sorry but Midtown is a better fit for a streetcar today.

BPJ
BPJ

The Peachtree route would be a fine thing to have if we had unlimited transit funding. Getting the Peach bus to come by every 10 minutes would be much less expensive, and would obtain much of the benefit.

As for the East-West line: it's a good idea, and it could become a great asset if we plan for expanding it over time. Picture the route extending west past the aquarium, up Marietta Street, by Ga. Tech, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, the galleries and shops of the Westside, on to Atlantic Station. The East line could continue on past the King Center, eventually headed south near several interesting neighborhoods, to Grant Park and the Zoo.

That would be a major improvement in our transit infrastructure.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

As much as I encourage public transport, this is a misguided, feel-good effort that may well be counterproductive. As long as streetcars must run on the streets, they will not move people faster or more efficiently than buses. Once the novelty has worn off, why would I would I want to ride a streetcar that is slower than the buses? Or does MARTA intend on removing the buses from these routes?

clincher
clincher

Why is this line not planned to link closer to the Little Five Points retail and entertainment district. It is so close and even if the line terminated at the Irwin street Beltline crossing it would provide a logical transit connection and it would be within reasonable walking distance of the Highland Ave/L5P retail and entertainment area. My two cents.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration is presenting its proposal for a downtown streetcar to City Council this week and hopes to gain approval for the project in time to apply for a $52 million federal grant, Maria Saporta reports. […]

  2. […] Atlanta officials are asking the feds to once again consider doling out some cash for the Peachtree Streetcar project. Only this time, the pot of money is much, much smaller and the route has been scaled down. Maria Saporta reports: […]

  3. […] for which the Atlanta streetcar project is applying – see the Saporta Report on their proposal here. Interesting. Can I sign something supporting […]