A Streetcar Still Desired

The U.S. Department of Transportation received more than 4,000 applications from every state and the District of Columbia for transportation projects around the US. The Peach State requested a total of nearly $1.7 billion. The problem? The total funds requested from around the US was 40 times more than were available. The federal agency received more than 30 applications from Georgia, but the Peach State was one of 13 states and territories not to receive any funding. Sorry folks, that means the Peachtree Streetcar didn’t make the cut.

Our friend Thomas Wheatley over at Creative Loafing has more.

The city’s $298 million bid for the proposed Peachtree Streetcar was not among the more than 50 TIGER grant recipients announced todayby the U.S. Department of Transportation. The cash, part of President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus program, will fund a variety of transportation projects across the country.

There were high hopes that federal officials would award funding to the shovel-ready project, which envisions a streetcar line running along Peachtree from Five Points to Midtown and an east-west line connecting Centennial Olympic Park and the King Center.

Downtown and Midtown business boosters were on board and key to getting the project past the brainstorming stages. Mayor Kasim Reed recently told Maria Saporta the city’s application even received a nod of approval from Federal Transit Administration Region IV Director Yvette Taylor.

But just like previous federal funding rounds for high-speed rail and other transit projects, Georgia and Atlanta received nothing.

Georgia is a “red” state at the moment, with Senators and Reps that opposed the stimulus. So, maybe Obama and the Democrats wanted to keep funds out of the hands of Republicans, right? Not necessarily. The streetcar project would have helped an urban area represented by Democrat John Lewis, but was still shown no love by the Obama administration. I’ll leave Obama’s reasoning up for debate. For now what we do know is that Georgia is left to look for an alternative to funding the streetcar.

To view a complete list of the awarded grants, download this PDF. You can read Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s remarks here.

H/T Creative Loafing’s Thomas Wheatley

36 comments

  1. bgsmallz says:

    Just to back up your red state/blue state comment…Alabama and TN got the largest grant at $105M for a intermodel train line/system to run between B-Ham and Memphis. Dallas’ streetcar got $23M.

    Anyone remember when we were ahead of our neighbors/competitors on transportation infrastructure? We are going to pay for our complete lack of will to fund any transportation project that didn’t include asphalt for the past 8 years…the GOP in this state continues to be short sighted on the urgency that is needed to keep this state competitive.

    Put the transportation issue on the ballot in 2010!!!!!

  2. From what I’ve read, part of the decision had to do with the amount of money the state would contribute to the project. Arizona’s streetcar received funding. But Arizona also was putting it’s money up for the project as well. Georgia was asking for funds without wanting to contribute any of it’s own.

    • Lawton Sack says:

      While the Federal government was not providing funds for unfunded Federal mandates that it placed on Georgia. Oh the beautiful cycle of politics and government.

    • trainsplz says:

      So, the AJC claims that each state was limited to a total of 300 million. The streetcar grant was for the entire cost of the project – 298.5 million, with no funding mechanism from the state in case it went over budget. I wouldn’t have funded that grant either.

      The story is pretty much the same with high-speed rail. They’re just not going to pay for the whole thing. Unfortunately for us, since the gasoline tax in GA can be used only for roads – it’s in the constitution that way – there’s no funding mechanism for anything else.

      It sucks, and it sucks that the legislators can’t get their act together and let us vote on a regional sales tax to get rid of some of the congestion and fund projects like the streetcar and the brain train, both of which would get cars off of the road and be great for local businesses.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Beg to differ on the funding. While the excise portion of the state’s motor fuel tax is constitutionally restricted to roads and bridges, I don’t think the sales tax portion is. I’m rather certain 1% of the 4% motor fuel sales tax goes into the general fund.

        The funding mechanism is quite simple, make an appropriation and/or sell bonds.

        That aside, you hit the nail on the head in pointing out that money goes to those with skin in their projects.

  3. Mad Dog says:

    David,

    How do you feel about the locals choosing projects through ‘funding?’

    That is my opinion. When the federal government requires local jurisdictions to provide partial funding, usually 20%, it forces decisions. A last chance at turning down the money. A motivation not to waste it.

    So I think your comments is right. If the locals don’t put up, then the project is dead.

    JMHO

    • I think that if a particular community wants a particular project, they should show some sort of effort to get that project going other than asking for money from the federal government. If federal dollars are involved, then fine. (After all, part of those dollars came from the people who would be served by the project.) But the entire amount shouldn’t be federally funded.

      Personally, I love street cars and rail. I was in San Francisco a couple of years ago and while I didn’t like a few things about that city (it seemed rather dirty and we were constantly being asked for money by homeless people), I did like it’s transportation options. We had a rental car for the week we spent in Napa, but relied on public transportation for our entire stay in SF, with the exception of a private towncar to get from our hotel to the airport.

      One thing really strikes me as odd about the whole Peachtree Streetcar ordeal though. $298M? That seems like a lot of money for the purpose that it would serve. How about starting with some small bus like trolleys like they use for tours of San Francisco. That way they’re driveable just like any ordinary vehicle. Set some basic routes, like going back and forth up and down Peachtree where people can hop on and off every 5 minutes. That, to me, sounds like a much quicker way to bring progress to our city and get more bang for the buck, and can easily be replaced with light rail at a later date along those same routes if it’s proven to be financially feasible. I would love to see a private company invest a couple million or so in this idea though instead of using taxpayer dollars if possible.

  4. Rambler1414 says:

    I love all this talk about transit and alternative modes of transportation. Our elected leaders have collectively dropped the ball by not giving 2 craps about it until Charlotte was given that huge grant and ATL was left with their hands in their pockets.

    Along with educating our elected officials, we also have a long ways to go when educating our citizens about the benefits of alternative modes of transportation. It’s time to get past the “Crime will increase!” “We don’t want THOSE types of people living near us!” arguments.

  5. bgsmallz says:

    Anyone else wondering why the feds didn’t help fund any of our current projects need to look no further than the money we are still sitting on that was granted to fund commuter rail.

    Here is one source or for more, do a google search of “lovejoy line federal funding.”

    http://atlanta.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2009/04/27/story10.html

    We’ve been sitting on that money since 1998. Purdue and the GOP takeover killed commuter rail…absolutely slaughtered it. Those lines were on track for being in place by the end of the decade….basically, now. There used to be great maps of the lines on the internet (back in 2001-2003) that showed the routes from Athens through Gwinnett through Emory and Atlantic Station downton, Macon to downtown, Woodstock to downtown, etc. but they were removed when the projects were dismissed.

    Anyway, for someone who thinks a GOP plank should include smart investment which involves…gasp!…spending….the past 8 years of if we turn the state of Georgia into the Motel 6 and price it at $39 a night we will be able to use supply side economics to lure businesses looking for a weekend at the Ritz (or even the flippin Marriott) has been a nightmare.

    • Lawton Sack says:

      One question: If we have had the money since 1998, and Perdue did not take over until 2003, what about those 4-5 years from 1998 to 2003 when the Democrats ran the show in the Governor’s mansion, the GA Senate, AND the GA House?

      • ByteMe says:

        What he’s saying is that the federal money was there, but matching local funds were not. The operating costs were to come from the communities served by it, but they didn’t have it. The legislature is the same under (R)’s as (D)’s: if it ain’t asphalt and doesn’t involve the boonies, it doesn’t happen. And Perdue killed it altogether when he came into office and decided to ignore the problem.

        • bgsmallz says:

          Lawton-

          You should read the link before spouting rhetoric. The Lovejoy money was set aside in a bill in 1998. Barnes and the legislature created the GRTA and the foundation for the master plan no later than 1999. The rest was history as Perdue and, as long as I’m naming names, the folks like Dan Weber (who I heard at a meeting this winter at Oglethorpe actually poo-poo rail in favor of buses and more asphalt as a solution for the Gwinnett/top end/Cobb corridor). If you go to the website that used to have the plans for the rails, it is now a Russian mail order bride site….that isn’t a joke. That is the actual truth. http://www.garail.com Funny thing is that at least with that site you might actually get results in 12 years.

          Quoth the article:

          “In 1999, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, a new agency steered through the legislature by then-Gov. Roy Barnes, and two other transportation agencies unveiled an ambitious plan for two commuter rail lines and a series of inter-city passenger routes with Atlanta as the hub.

          Besides the Lovejoy project, envisioned as the first leg of an Atlanta-to-Macon commuter route, the plan also called for a commuter line connecting Atlanta and Athens.

          But support for passenger rail waned after 2002, when Republican Perdue turned Democrat Barnes out of office and the GOP began a takeover of the General Assembly that was completed in 2004.”

          So to answer your question “what about those 4-5 years from 1998 to 2003 when the Democrats ran the show in the Governor’s mansion, the GA Senate, AND the GA House?” the answer is that the progress made during those 4-5 years was crushed by short sighted lawmakers who failed to follow through on what was needed for our state and our region.

          • Lawton Sack says:

            I wasn’t spouting rhetoric and I read the link before posting. The reading was what prompted my question.

            I saw that the GRTA was formed in 1999 and then that after 2002 interest waned. I honestly was asking about that 4-5 year gap from 1998 (or 1999) until 2003 that was not in the article. I enjoy facts.

          • Dave Bearse says:

            I didn’t read the link, but I can say a full scale Environmental Assessment of the Macon Line was conducted 2000-2002, with a fast-tracked (pun intended) finding of no significant impact made in I think fall 2002. That date ring a bell?

            Had the state contributed funding ($60M from the state would’ve been enough for Griffin service), trains would’ve been running by fall 2005.

            Athens Line planning and Environmental Work started a couple years after the Macon Line, and continued through latertrnwork started a little later and continued at least through 2003. Being in motion it took awhile for Perdue’s and Dome indifference shut it down.

      • Remember, before the 1990’s, even the roads in Georgia were awful. We were barely working with basic transportation then, and alternative transportation sounded like the Jetsons’ flying cars.

        I got to Athens in 1996, just after GA-316 was opened to revolutionize Atlanta-Athens traffic (for good or ill). I spent my entire childhood watching from the backseat as my father drove us from Glynn County to Albany or Augusta to visit my grandparents. Highways 1, 17, 78, 82, 84, 441 and Interstates 16 and 95 were not the monuments to effective construction that they are today.

        THAT is what the Democrats in power were doing back then, and I brag on all that to my neighbors down here in New Orleans.

        Thing is, there were plans for the trains being developed back then (especially the Atlanta-Athens line). I thought it would be the next logical step after the major capital project roads had been completed, but the ideas just withered on the vine.

        But they were real enough that Athens developed their own Multi-Modal Transportation Center, commuter rail ready, and started it in 2002.

  6. Progressive Dem says:

    There are many possible reasons why Atlanta did not receive funding for a trolley system. Probably the least important factor was red state/blue state. This was a competitive selection process. Not everyone was going to be a winner.

    Dallas won $23 million to build a starter line. Dallas still needs $15 million more to complete the project. The cost per mile for Dallas was about $18 million. The costs per mile for Atlanta were much higher. Atlanta also asked for a much larger chunk of money ($300 million!). Dallas also has an existing funding source already in place to pay for some of the shortfall through tollway funds. The rest was to paid for from bonding capacity, tax increment financing or by property owners approving additional property tax through a commercial improvement district. Atlanta had no firm revenue source for the project.

  7. Sorry to hear that Atlanta missed out on this grant. A Peachtree Streetcar would be a boon to that location.

    The Georgia proposal for $298M is almost three times the amount of the highest grant recipient. Only 7 proposals were granted more than $50M. I think the reasoning has more to do with which maximizing the number of projects can be completed successfully and have the highest impact.

    For example, I know New Orleans wanted a heck of a lot more cash to expand our already robust streetcar lines. We got approved for the cheapest proposal that runs through parts of town most likely to revitalize, connecting existing routes with the Greyhound/Amtrak station.

    As for alternate methods of funding, Georgia in general and Atlanta in particular have singificant bases to raise the money to get this (and other projects like the “Brain Train”) done. The most positive (and most taxpayer friendly) have already been mentioned (SPLOST, constitutional amendment to the gasoline tax).

    But it will not be long before toll roads, higher parking fees and brake tags are considered to raise money for major capital projects of this nature. These are relatively invasive, ripe for corruption and patronage and leave a bad taste in the mouths of citizens. I wouldn’t suggest going that route, and I’d warn you to be wary of folks who propose such.

    But at some point, it is just going to require a cultural change in the minds of folks in the metro area to support transportation that is not exclusively auto-centric.

  8. It intrigues me that whenever transportation is brought up, you see a handful of new faces in the comment thread who are rabidly pro-train yet never heard from again on any other topic. If the front-page post is specific to Gwinnett, it also guarantees a rare Mark Rountree appearance in the thread. Funny how all that works.

    • polisavvy says:

      Though I’m kind of new to PP, I have gone back and read months worth of posts. You are accurate about the appearances. :)

        • polisavvy says:

          What, to go back and read? I just wanted to see what it was all about before I decided to participate. Call it dedication, stupidity, or sheer boredom, I can’t help myself sometimes but to go back and read old posts. :)

    • After running a search on Mark Rountree’s name and skimming over the past year’s worth of posts, it’s actually not true at all that they’re mostly about Gwinnett “partnership” issues. I shouldn’t have flown off half-cocked, especially after being so critical of the Cagle rumor-mongering.

      And no, not even in the original comment did I mean to imply that sockpuppets on these issues were Mark’s personally. I’m pretty sure the consulting bread-n-butter is in polling and direct mail, rather than rigging small blogs that are this inside-baseball. I do still think a fair bit of that goes on, but I don’t think it’s professionally coordinated, so I’m not pointing fingers at Mark or “Brian Laurens” or anyone else in particular.

      • trainsplz says:

        Thank you for your candor, Steve. In exchange, I will admit that I am but a mouthpiece of the shadow streetcar lobby/SPLOST conspiracy, funded by United Streetcar Wheels, Inc, out of Des Moines. I work out of Cochin, India, and am paid 30 cents a day, plus unlimited potato daiquiris.

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