Atlanta scores $10 million federal grant to improve MLK Drive

A recently announced federal grant will pump $10 million into Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Drive corridor to improve mobility and safety, while enhancing the aesthetic feel of the seven-mile corridor that stretches from the mouth of a brand new football stadium to the western border of the city.

Earlier this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that $500 million will be made available for transportation projects across the country in the eighth round of the highly successful and competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.

Atlanta was the only city in Georgia to get a grant this round. It is also the third grant the city has gotten through the program.

According to Mayor Kasim Reed, the improvements to the street will include synchronized traffic lights, new sidewalks and a multi-use trail with new landscaping, historic signage, street furniture, upgraded crosswalks, distinctive paving with ADA ramps, public art displays at major intersections, improved medians, new street lighting and a pocket park in the median of the road.

“With this major grant, the city is able to make significant progress toward completing this vital project,” Reed said. “As the birthplace of Dr. King, the street bearing his name (in Atlanta) should and will be one of the most attractive and important streets in our city.”

Earlier this year, the Atlanta City Council passed legislation to begin resurfacing along the corridor. The TIGER grant will cover roughly half of the $22.9 million project.

“This unique program rewards innovative thinking and collaborative solutions to difficult and sometimes dangerous transportation problems,” Foxx said in a conference call. “A great TIGER program doesn’t just improve transportation; it expands economic opportunity and transforms a community.”

Since the TIGER program started in 2009 it has pumped $5.1 billion —including $75 million to Atlanta — into 421 projects across the country.

In 2010, Atlanta received a $47 million TIGER II grant to start the first phase of the Atlanta Streetcar – a 2.7 mile loop around downtown's tourist district. The city also received an $18 million TIGER V grant for the construction of the Atlanta BeltLine's Westside trail.

But according to C.T. Martin, who represents the area on the city council, the project is still at least $38 million short.

“Beautifying MLK has to have three prongs: economic development, housing and public safety,” said C.T. Martin. “This helps, but we are trying to put together a $50 million package.”

Martin said Invest Atlanta, the city's economic development arm, has invested $2 million toward refurbishing the long-neglected corridor, which is primed for an economic boost with the pending June 2, 2017 opening of the new stadium, which is still under construction.

Martin wonders what took so long.

“I would hope that the need for improvements would stand on its own with the realization that we have to do concrete work to the streets that traverse the black communities of Southwest Atlanta,” Martin said.