Feds fast-track Atlanta's 'Gulch' project

The long-running effort to build a new transportation hub in downtown Atlanta's desolate "Gulch" got a modest boost Friday when federal officials put the permitting process on the fast track, shaving as much as a year off the timeline.

The "multimodal passenger terminal" that would overhaul the pit of vacant lots, railroad ties and parking spaces in the heart of downtown is still years, if not decades, away. But politicians and transit advocates hailed Friday's announcement as a sign that federal heavyweights who could help secure funding for the project are behind it.

The announcement, delivered atop a parking deck overlooking the nearly 120-acre site, means that the terminal becomes one of 43 infrastructure projects whose permitting will be expedited. Last week, the White House also announced that the dredging of the Port of Savannah will be fast-tracked.

"Much like we've accomplished so much for this region, we're going to get this done, too," said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, adding: "The area you're in right now will be one of the most beautiful places in the city of Atlanta."

The site, which lies between the CNN Center complex and the Five Points MARTA station, has a ways to go. Graffiti mars a dilapidated building sitting in the sunken tangle, which has been turned into a sprawling parking lot.

A group of developers this month unveiled three conceptual drawings for the hub that would include new roads and parks radiating from a massive terminal with levels for bus stops, trains and streetcars.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the Atlanta Democrat who helped secure the designation, said he sees vast potential.

"This will be a facility that links our state and our citizens even closer, creates hundreds, if not thousands of jobs, and transforms a forgotten piece of land into a vibrant city center," he said.