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.