Honk if you’ll still be stuck in traffic after we build this (from the AJC’s Washington correspondent, Bob Keefe):
In a major coup for the city of Atlanta, the U.S. Department of Transportation has agreed to grant the city of Atlanta $47 million for the proposed downtown streetcar project, according to U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta.
Lewis’ office said he got confirmation of the award in a conversation with DOT Secretary Ray LaHood on Friday morning.
“In my conversation with Secretary LaHood this morning he reiterated his belief that it was a good and necessary project and one that deserved federal funding,” Lewis said in a statement. “Not only does this project offer citizens and visitors to the downtown area another option for transportation, it will also provide green jobs and support economic development.”
City officials have been pursuing funding for the streetcar line, which will run east-west connecting the MLK site with Centennial Olympic Park, for months. Lewis, along with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, met with and had conference calls with DOT Secretary Ray LaHood as recently as a few days ago to try and get the funding.
According to city plans, the project would cost more than $70 million, with the city and the Central Atlanta Progress’ Downtown Improvement District putting up about $20 million for it.
Reed’s office has estimated the project would create 5,200 jobs over 20 years and would not only help ease downtown traffic problems but also help the city compete for more tourism and convention business.
Atlanta had applied for a $56 million grant for the project under a DOT program designed to upgrade transportation networks and create jobs quickly.
I’ve previously expressed my doubts about whether this tourist line will really ease downtown traffic, which tends to be worst on the interstates rather than the surface streets, and whether transportation dollars should be used to move money rather than people. A tourist trolley and a MARTA bus line running more or less the same route have already failed, perhaps because there’s a MARTA subway line running pretty darn close to the area (”close” being relative to metro Atlanta’s very limited existing transit infrastructure). Now we’re supposed to believe that a streetcar is what we really needed there all along?
Here’s one thing it will do: Further convince skeptics that the transit projects that get built are the nice-sounding boondoggles instead of items targeted where traffic is worst.
But only if it actually gets built. The feds coughed up $9 million less than Atlanta had asked for. Central Atlanta Progress and the city government — which, if you hadn’t already heard, is broke … and up to its eyebrows in unfunded pension liabilities — had pledged about $20 million to the $70 million-plus project. (Keep in mind: That’s at least $70 million just for a loop covering about 2 miles downtown — it doesn’t even go north or south on Peachtree!)
Perhaps CAP and the city were sandbagging in order to get the most federal money possible, and they really have closer to $30 million. Assuming the project comes in on budget — which strikes me as an awfully big assumption — they might have enough money to build it.
Now, how are they going to run it? MARTA just cut dozens of bus routes and reduced subway operating hours in large part because it couldn’t afford to run them.
I’m not an anti-transit person. But it has to be effective. If we’re going to spend $70 million on transit, it would be much better used to to complete however much of the Beltline’s transit plans $70 million would buy.
At least that would have a real impact.