Atlanta loses out on federal transportation grant

Staff writer Andria Simmons contributed to this report.

Mayor Kasim Reed’s hopes of connecting the Atlanta Streetcar to the Beltline will have to wait, for now.

The city lost its bid for $29.3 million in federal transportation money that Reed hoped would fund an extension of the streetcar system to the greenspace project’s Eastside Trail. It also sought funds to build a multi-use path on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Instead, grants worth $500 million were awarded to projects in 34 states Thursday, including $15 million to double an existing streetcar system in Tacoma, Washington. Georgia was passed over entirely in this round of funding.

A spokeswoman for Reed’s office said the city was “disappointed” that it did not receive a grant during this round. Anne Torres added that while Atlanta will seek future federal funding for the streetcar project, it has an alternative plan for the streetcar extension.

“Fortunately, we will be able to proceed with plans for the expansion through a public-private model,” she said.

In September, Reed deflected when asked about rumors that Atlanta had been passed over.

“How many do you want me to win?” he said. “There have been five rounds of TIGER and we’ve won two. And in the two rounds that we won, we got the largest grants.”

Atlanta has indeed won sizable Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants in recent years: a $47.6 million TIGER grant in 2010 for the first phase of the streetcar project and an additional $18 million grant in 2013 for the Beltline’s Westside Trail.

It's not immediately clear why Atlanta wasn't selected, or if it's related to the project's well-documented safety and security troubles. The streetcar system, which opened last December after several delays, has endured staffing turmoil, blistering audits, a security breach and drew the ire of federal transit authorities for "continuing concerns with the safety and operation" of the system. City officials have since hired a third party to temporarily manage the project.

Conor Sen, a local investment manager, speculated that’s why Atlanta lost out. “Unpopular for elected officials to say, so I’ll say it — we didn’t deserve it,” he said on Twitter. “The Streetcar has governance issues.”