To the editor:
On July 20, the Midtown and Downtown business associations offered the city a $600,000 grant to do a feasibility study on a streetcar line along Atlanta’s famed Peachtree Street and to prepare the city’s application for $300 million of stimulus money.
I voted against the legislation to accept the grant. It passed 11-3, so the feasibility study and the application for federal money will be done. My position is based on the following:
The Franklin administration asked for the legislation to be fast-tracked. The council had not had a work session or public hearing on the project. We never specifically endorsed the streetcar proposal. The streetcar is not the top priority in Connect Atlanta, the city’s first comprehensive transportation plan either.
So, where will these streetcars go? The east line stops at the King Center so riders cannot get to Grant Park, Zoo Atlanta or the Cyclorama. To the south, the line stops at Five Points, missing the government centers near the State Capitol. The western portion of the streetcar line stops at Centennial Olympic Park, missing a number of hotels along the way.
On the north, it stops at the Woodruff Arts Center. Riders will be unable to reach the tourism draws and employment centers in Buckhead, including Lenox Square, Phipps Plaza and The Streets of Buckhead, a massive redevelopment project that will transform Buckhead Village into a mini-metropolis.
Who will pay the annual maintenance cost of $4.5 million? Stimulus money can’t be used for maintenance. Backers say that none of our local tax dollars will be spent on the streetcar.
And what about the BeltLine? In fact, the proposed streetcars will only have two connections to this promising 22-mile transit loop. Feasibility studies have already been done on the BeltLine, and environmental studies are in progress.
The BeltLine is anticipated to cost $2.8 billion and tax allocation bonds have already been issued for this project. In October, bonds of approximately $150 million more also will be issued to support the BeltLine. The BeltLine is shovel-ready, so why isn’t the city applying for federal funds for the project?
My bet is that the administration thinks a project with sizzle has a better chance of attracting money. The BeltLine will bring more development, affordable housing and infrastructure improvements than streetcars along Peachtree Street.
Also think about this. The Peach, which is MARTA’s No. 110 transit bus, goes from Lenox Square to downtown’s Mitchell Street. Why can’t this simply run more frequently? No wonder the Buckhead business associations do not endorse the streetcar.
In the 1970s, I joined the campaign in supporting a penny sales tax to create MARTA. The MARTA lines didn’t go several places we thought were important. But we were told it would be extended later. In 30 years, only the North Line has been extended. That is all. I believe the same will be true of the streetcar.
Finally, who will own the streetcar? If we don’t know who will own the system, how can we apply for federal funds?
All of these questions are important. They should be answered before an application for stimulus money is submitted in mid-September.
Atlanta City Council District 6