Despite tough competition, Mayor Reed hoping Atlanta will win streetcar funding

By Maria Saporta

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is still keeping his fingers crossed that the city will win federal funding for a streetcar that will connect Centennial Olympic Park with the King Center.

“I feel good about where we are,” Reed said Wednesday morning after a Metro Atlanta Chamber breakfast with more than 30 ambassadors from around the world. “We are going to continue to push through Friday.”

Reed said he had a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on Tuesday. That followed a meeting Reed had on Monday with LaHood, President Barack Obama and others to talk about the need to have an infrastructure agenda for the nation.

“I’m not going to get too high or get too low,” Reed said in anticipation of the expected announcement, which could come as soon as Friday. “I’m going to stay focused on doing the work. I’m working every single day on the city’s efforts.”

This is the second time the city has applied for federal funding for its streetcar proposal as part of the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants.

The first time, the city applied for nearly $300 million with no local match for two streetcar lines — one serving the downtown East-West loop and the second connecting downtown with Midtown.

Its second proposal was more modest. The $72 million proposal called for $52 million in federal funds with a $20 million local match. The 2.6 mile East-West loop would connect two of Atlanta’s most important tourism destinations and serve people living and working along the Edgewood and Auburn avenue corridors.

But the competition for the TIGER funds is just as intense this time around. Only $600 million will be available nationwide, and the U.S. Department of Transportation has received more than 1,000 applications for proposals totaling $50 billion.

Unlike the first round, Atlanta leaders have had more direct contact with federal officials about its streetcar proposal.

“The conversations have been more robust than during the last round,” Reed said. “We have provided the DOT with all the substantive responses they have asked for. This is some competition, but it is very healthy for the city to be at the table and competing.”

If Atlanta does lose out in this round, Reed said there will be other opportunities because the Obama administration will be making further investments in transportation and urban infrastructure.

“There’s going to be continuous funding for transportation in the United States,” Reed said. “The question is whether you are going to be in the game or not. If you are not going to advance your proposal, you are not in the game.”

Reed, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ transportation committee, said the administration recognizes that investing in infrastructure is the best way to stimulate the economy.

“I think the President is focused on infrastructure because he believes it’s the right national priority,” Reed said. “Infrastructure is the space where there’s been bi-partisan cooperation. We can’t fall behind our competitors. We’ve got to go out and make the case to America and explain to chambers of commerce why we need to make infrastructure investments.”

Meanwhile, Reed said two Atlanta projects are top of mind for him — the Peachtree Streetcar and the Atlanta Beltline.

We’ll know soon enough whether Atlanta’s streetcar will win in this round of federal grants.

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.

12 replies
  1. James R. Oxendine says:

    The project will not only boost Downtown/Edgewood Avenue but stimulate more transit oriented development(TOD) within the Atlanta and the metro area as well.Report

    Reply
  2. Darin says:

    Though I think a dedicated, simple and frequent MARTA bus route would be a better solution for this route, I’ll still be thrilled if the streetcar gets funded.

    One thing that excites me about a transit line here is the possibility of nurturing the seeds of progress in the Auburn/Edgewood Avenue areas. Developments in the past few years such as Renaissance Walk and the cool restaurants on Edgewood (Sound Table, Cafe Circa, Pizzeria Vesuvius, etc.) will all have greater transit access and higher visibility because of it.

    Also, there are lots of misused and empty spaces between these developments that could be filled in and given visibility via foot traffic delivered by transit.Report

    Reply
  3. Mike says:

    The problem with buses is they don’t spur development the way a dedicated transit line would, like a streetcar. Just look at Portland as an example of what a streetcar can do. And I have to disagree with Joy and Debbie… Downtown has a lot of potential to be something much better one day.Report

    Reply
  4. Refuge says:

    This is a complete and utter waste of money. Atlanta can’t maintain its current infrastructure (and MARTA is in a huge hole) and now they want to build another politically motivated boondoggle that will only serve to transport crazies from one side of town to another. If that many people need to get from King Center to Centennial Park (or back), dedicate a specially-designed/decorated bus. It will cost less, be more flexible, and not disrupt traffic for three years while it is built. Thinking that this will spur more business (that will actually last more than 6 months) along the route is a dream – there is no evidence that will happen.Report

    Reply
  5. Refuge says:

    Mike – Portland is not a good example. They constrained expansion of the city, forcing the development of intown alternatives. Atlanta can’t/won’t do that, so businesses and customers just go elsewhere.

    Plus – how much economic damage will be done to existing businesses while this boondoggle is built? Ask the business owners whose stores & restaurants went under while MARTA rebuilt the station in Decatur what it feels like to try and make a living in the midst of a seemingly never-ending construction project.Report

    Reply
  6. Intown commuter says:

    I live near Decatur & work in Buckhead. My 10 mile commute regularly takes more than one hour (public transit? MARTA takes even longer and now costs more). Mayor Reed, how about addressing the tens of thousands of people who have a similar problem instead of pursuing this silly “build it and they will come” streetcar? Fix the real problems, not the ones that will make you look good.Report

    Reply
  7. Debbie says:

    What I find amazing is that the area around the Aquariam draws millions of visitors annually, but once you leave, there is nothing to do except visit the few other attractions or watch the incredibly boring water fountain show at the park. Was just in Baltimore and the area around the aquariam is alive with activity.Report

    Reply
  8. Mike says:

    Refuge, just because Atlanta doesn’t have urban growth boundaries like Portland doesn’t mean Downtown can’t be successful and a streetcar won’t work and spur development. If you look at Atlanta population statistics, you will see that more people are moving ITP (or within Fulton and Dekalb) than OTP (Cobb and Gwinnett). The trend has been reversing and this will only make Downtown more attractive for people to live and for businesses. Other Sunbelt cities like Dallas, Houston, and Charlotte that have built light rail/streetcars have seen a huge investment in the surrounding area.

    This will help revitalize Downtown and Debbie, it will help to spur more activity in that area. Some of you are so short sighted it baffles my mind. People like you with NO VISION are the reasons why places like Detroit exist. It’s a good thing Atlanta has people with vision that’s for sure.

    And to the person who lives in Decatur… you live in Decatur, not Atlanta. It isn’t Mayor Reeds job to find a better way for you to get to work. Yes, he is a part of it, but the Atlanta metro needs to work together to improve transit in the metro area (but it isn’t the Mayor of Atlanta’s job to do that!)Report

    Reply
  9. Debbie says:

    Mike,

    IT’S NOT THAT I DON’T LACK VISION FOR ATLANTA, IT’S JUST THAT I HAVE HEARD OVER AND OVER AGAIN ABOUT PROJECTS COMING THAT WOULD IMPROVE THE DOWNTOWN EXPERIENCE. AND, THEN NOTHING EVER OCCURRS.
    I THINK THE STREETCAR IS EXCELLENT NEWS. IT WILL GREATLY IMPROVE THE DOWNTOWN AREA. WAY TO GO MAYOR REED! APPEARS HE IS ALREADY BEGINNING TO DO MORE, THAN IN MY OPINION, SHIRLY FRANKLYN DID DURING BOTH HER TERMS.
    MAYBE, REED CAN BRING BACK THE NIGHTLIFE THAT SHIRLY DESTROYED.Report

    Reply

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