Atlanta passenger terminal to seek developer

Transit advocates who have long frowned at state inaction on mass transit finally might have something to smile about. The state Department of Transportation on Wednesday will unveil plans that it is seeking a private developer to help create a multi-use passenger terminal in downtown Atlanta.

It is hoped income from real estate developments built above or around the ambitious project would help pay the terminal's costs. The developer, working with transportation agencies, would determine how much public money is required, recommend the type of development and decide in what phases to complete it, said Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, DOT spokeswoman. The state is hoping that federal grants will supplement the project.

The DOT board will meet in Atlanta on Wednesday and Thursday.

Although the land for purchase hasn't been specified, the terminal would be in the “gulch” area on the west side of Five Points. It would serve passengers of all kinds, riding inter-city bus and rail, local bus and rail, and taxis and transit for the disabled, and would allow for bicycle and pedestrian access.

“It’s good to see some progress being made on that station,” said Lee Biola, president of Citizens for Progressive Transit. “It’ll be even better when we actually have trains running."

Advocates such as Biola have been slow to get their hopes up, given the state's anemic history on mass transit, with the terminal in planning for years. Millions of dollars of federal earmarks that might have helped pay for the terminal, or for a commuter rail line connected to it, could be revoked because DOT has used so little of the money in the past.

Georgia's lack of investment has led to its loss of major federal grants for rail expansion, even as neighboring states have taken advantage, unnerving Atlanta economic development boosters. North Carolina secured passenger rail grants n in January, and last week Charlotte obtained $25 million to help build the first leg of its streetcar system. However, Atlanta lost its bid for a a streetcar grant in February, but will reapply.

DOT legally can't use its gas tax, its major source of state funding, for rail projects. Yet state leaders said there is a new respect for transit at the agency and new activity. DOT has taken the lead on the terminal project now through its program for public-private partnerships.

It likely will be years before construction begins on an Atlanta terminal. The state expects to choose a team and its proposal in May or June next year, and the developer and the agencies will spend another year putting together a development plan, Paulk-Buchanan said. The project would be built in phases, probably with bus facilities coming first.