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Atlanta sets stage to extend streetcar by 2.5 miles, to BeltLine’s Westside Trail

By David Pendered

Atlanta is moving forward with a $1 million environmental analysis of a proposed route of the Atlanta Streetcar that would run 2.5 miles from Centennial Olympic Park west to the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail.

The proposed route is projected to spark economic development and provide an alternate mode of transportation, according to a fact sheet provided by Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm.

The route is part of a $3.7 billion BeltLine/Streetcar expansion plan that that was outlined in June 2015 on the BeltLine’s website. The costs have since been deleted from the webpage.

This segment is forecast to create 1,800 construction jobs. Once the segment is completed, it is to spur creation of 2,000 permanent jobs, according to the fact sheet.

Atlanta doesn’t have money to build the project. However, by completing an environmental assessment, Atlanta will position the project to be eligible for, “major federal funding opportunities,” according to the fact sheet.

The analysis is to begin this month and be complete in December.

Atlanta didn’t have a project to apply for in this year’s federal Tiger discretionary grant, which had a deadline of April 29. This year, $500 million was made available for projects. The criteria sound like a perfect fit for the streetcar:

The proposed Purple Line would extend from Centennial Olympic Park the the Atlanta BeltLine's Westside Trail. Credit: Invest Atlanta

The proposed Purple Line would extend from Centennial Olympic Park the the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail. See link in the story to the IA report, which has a bigger version of this map. Credit: Invest Atlanta

  • “The 2016 TIGER grant program will focus on capital projects that generate economic development and improve access to reliable, safe and affordable transportation for communities, both urban and rural.”

Last year, Atlanta applied for a $29.3 million grant to extend the streetcar east to the Irwin Street entrance to the BeltLine. Total cost of the 1.8 mile segment was forecast at $65.4 million. Atlanta did not win a grant.

Terms for the current environmental assessment call for this work to be done via an extension of an existing contract for environmental assessment of the existing streetcar route.

Atlanta, in consultation with the regional office of the Federal Transit Administration, reached a mutual agreement that this is, “a cost effective and logical approach,” according to the fact sheet.

The city is to provide $650,000 from the Westside Tax Allocation District, according to the resolution approved by the Invest Atlanta board. The TAD is funded with property taxes collected on developments built since the creation of the Westside TAD in 1998.

The money is to pay for consultant design engineering to support environmental documentation.

The board that oversees Invest Atlanta approved the spending at its April 21 meeting. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed chairs the board.

The Atlanta Regional Commission is to provide $365,625 to pay consultants for federal planning and environmental documentation.

Once this environmental analysis is complete, Atlanta will have the documentation necessary to seeking funding for a streetcar route that would cover 7 miles in Downtown Atlanta and adjoining neighborhoods:

The streetcar that was built with federal funding extends 2.7 miles, from Centennial Olympic Park to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Atlanta received a Tiger grant in the amount of $47 million to help pay for the $98 million project.

The 1.8-mile Irwin Street extension was forecast to cost $65.4 million. Atlanta didn’t win a $29.3 million grant that was to help offset costs.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. Robert Silvia May 9, 2016 8:40 am

    The current one is losing money and they want to build more? Idiots.Report

  2. John Von Hollen May 9, 2016 8:53 am

    As opposed to all that money roads are making?Report

  3. Robert Silvia May 9, 2016 8:54 am

    John Von Hollen yes. It’s called a gas tax. So – yes. We’re paying for empty buses and trolleys to go place that nobody wants/needs to go. That’s idiotic.Report

  4. Chad Carlson May 9, 2016 9:17 am

    A big mistake was made when the decision was made to align the streetcar with tourist attractions. This tourist centered construct has been typical from our city leadership for the last 40 years, a leadership that can’t understand that light rail, and in-town revitalization, needs to be oriented around where people live, not on out of town tourism. I think that mind set is starting to change. And this first phase was just a beginning to link with a wider light rail network that will HAVE to be implemented. Already there are too many cars in-town and we are seeing a major influx of in-town living. The sooner we get ahead by building more light rail, and designated bike lane, infrastructure, the better. And you can look at creating more public transit options as a way to free up the roads for those who do insist on driving.Report

  5. Charlene Mingus May 9, 2016 11:51 am

    “In recent years, tens of billions of dollars in general taxpayer money has been used (barely legally) to keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat. The theme weaves through all tiers of government. Using 2012 as an example, the report breaks it down like this: general taxpayers paid $47 billion in highway funding at the local level, $15.6 billion at the state level, and $6 billion at the national level—a total of nearly $69 billion, or almost $600 per household. Whether they drove or not.” http://www.citylab.com/commute/2015/05/debunking-the-myth-that-only-drivers-pay-for-roads/393134/Report

  6. Jason Berzsenyi May 9, 2016 9:40 pm

    I don’t get it. This route parallels/duplicates existing Marta service. Why would we take precious funds (if we can get them) and build this? Many parts of Atlanta have no fixed rail transit at all.Report

  7. Scott Martin May 9, 2016 10:02 pm

    Use that money to finish the BeltLine instead.Report

  8. Elise Berk May 10, 2016 9:07 am

    “it’s about having a cheaper, smarter, stress-free option to get to jobs and school and family. In addition to providing an alternative for soul-crushing rush-hour traffic on the city’s freeways, these new rail lines are psychologically knitting the city back together.”Report

  9. SuleNYC May 10, 2016 2:31 pm

    The proposed route would be dramatically improved by turning south on J.P. Brawley instead of J.E. Lowery. This alternate route would make the 10,000 students attending the Atlanta University Center’s academic institutions the focus of the project and would promote ridership. Moreover, J.P. Brawley is already closed to vehicular traffic, so the streetcar would start with the advantage of having dedicated lanes between MLK and Fair Street.Report

  10. Yesjustal May 10, 2016 6:00 pm

    I own property on James P Brawley as well as off Lowery so I’m good either wayReport

  11. Yesjustal May 10, 2016 6:01 pm

    It loses money because it doesn’t go anywhere.this route sounds like it will actually increase ridershipReport

  12. Burroughston Broch May 11, 2016 2:53 pm

    It will lose more money. The City says the existing line costs $5 million/year to operate and the fare income will be less than $200 thousand.Report


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