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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

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.



  1. martarider February 17, 2010 11:52 am

    It’s official, nothing for GA:

    Note that several other streetcar projects got funding — Tucson, Dallas, Portland and New Orleans. While there was no *required* local match, in most of those cases, the TIGER grant is still only funding a portion of the total project cost. The Tucson streetcar, for example, has a $88M local commitment from a 2006 referendum that will supplement the federal funds. We were asking for 100% federal funding to build ours.

    At some point we are going to have to step up with real local money for transit. Expecting a full free ride from the feds is not a winning strategy.Report

  2. CPA February 17, 2010 12:02 pm

    Well, then there’s little room for hope. Atlantans would have been happy to share the cost, but state legislators from outside Atlanta refuse to allow us the freedom to tax ourselves in order to fund transportation.Report

  3. Yr1215 February 17, 2010 12:12 pm

    “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.”

    And therein lies the problem. Atlanta didn’t want to put up any money. Phoenix did and got funding. The Feds are saying “put up or shut up.” And this applies to the city, not just the state. They ain’t giving the money away for free, you gotta show more local commitment….

    Get with the program folks. Or Atlanta is going to become the Birmingham of the 21st century.Report

  4. Big Daddy February 17, 2010 12:16 pm

    Yr1215 – Atlanta already is the Birmingham of the 21st century. We blew it with the recent mayoral election and now this…Report

  5. Scott February 17, 2010 1:17 pm

    Do we need any more proof the the Governor and Republican leadership under the gold dome have failed us. The lack of vision and leadership have now started to come home to roost. Anyone that runs a business knows that these 2 rules always apply:
    1. nothing is ‘free’
    2. you have to spend money to make money

    When Sonny first started to dismantle all the pro transit achievements of Roy Barnes, I knew that this was coming. I can only wonder what Georgia would be like had Sonny lost that election. My guess is we would be in a far better place.
    I do know one thing. I will be looking at every penny that is spent in this upcoming budget and if 1 stinkin dime gos to some rural “go fish” crap, I am going to do everything I can to make sure anyone and everyone who votes knows it. I challenge the rest of the readers/posters here to do the same!Report

  6. Mike February 17, 2010 8:04 pm

    Atlanta has and will still be talking about all the “Imagine Downtown Ideas” for years to come to the downtown area. Just a vision on paper, that’s all.
    This city is so far behind.Report

  7. john February 17, 2010 8:25 pm

    I would be very upset if I was lured to Atlanta by the Chamber of Commerce and spent money to stay at one of the hotels downtown.
    With the overall lack of vibrancy, no-shopping, nightlife, etc.
    I have to agree with the person who said, Atlanta is the Birmingham of the 21st century.
    Sure, sporting events downtown, fun for the people who enjoy tailgating in all the parking lots around downtown.Report

  8. L Clifton Oliver February 17, 2010 9:41 pm

    If we do not focus like a laser on why Georgia keeps loosing federal transportation dollars – we are bound to continue the mistakes of the past. The Peachtree Street car could have been funded with dedicated funding and placing transit where there is none now. See other reasonings at:


  9. Sheila February 17, 2010 9:53 pm

    Atlanta is out and Charlotte is in!!!! I hear America’s Mart is thinking about relocating there…Report

  10. Joy February 18, 2010 5:58 am

    Anyone whose lived in Atlanta long enough knows that Atlanta is a city full of ideas, but nothing ever happens! All talk and no action!Report

  11. Charles February 18, 2010 8:14 am

    Trust me Sheila, Charlotte is NOT IN. I have family there and spend a fair amount of time visiting. Charlotte has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and more empty and half built buildings than you could ever imagine. You can’t go out in Uptown after dark anymore for fear of being harassed by the thugs cruising the streets in their lowriders with bass bumping. In fact, many locals in Charlotte are now referring to their city as Detroit South.Report

  12. BPJ February 18, 2010 12:57 pm

    OK, the Atlanta bashing stuff is getting to be over the top. Let’s take a look at some of the positives over the past 15 years:

    -the city’s population is now the highest it’s ever been, at over 500K, a 25% increase;

    -the development of Centennial Olympic Park has transformed a once derelict area;

    -the High Museum has doubled in size, and made significant strides in both exhibitions and collections;

    -the world’s largest aquarium has been built here, and the zoo has made great improvements;

    -the sewer system has had a major overhaul (as the federal judge noted, on time and under budget);

    -we have begun work on the Beltline, widely recognized as one of the most exciting urban projects in the nation;

    -we have opened a new runway at the airport, and are on track to (finally) open the new international terminal;

    -while there are some concerns about state underfunding of public universities, Atlanta continues to benefit in myriad ways from Emory, Tech, GSU, and other schools;

    -Atlanta still ranks high as a “talent magnet”.

    We have things to work on, but let’s keep in in perspective. Now, CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS and tell them how important adequate transit funding is to you!Report

  13. Scott February 18, 2010 3:54 pm

    BPJ I look at your list of achievements and one thing strikes me. Those under the gold dome and the governor had nothing to do with any of them…surprise surprise. We were left to fend for ourselves, and did an impressive job. Problem is, we NEED that help now, and it is nowhere in sight.Report

  14. BPJ February 18, 2010 4:45 pm

    Well, I think the state did support the Park, and there was some slight help on the sewer system. But I generally agree with your point: the main thing holding Atlanta back is lack of support from state leaders (contrast North Carolina’s attitude toward Charlotte).Report


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