Atlanta: Streetcar can be an economic driver

The proposed Atlanta streetcar is an integral element of a shared long-term regional transportation vision to increase urban mobility, sustainable development and the livability of our city. It will serve as an economic development vehicle, connecting people to “the last mile” of key live-and-work areas within the city and expanding the transit network that will ultimately include the Beltline, MARTA, passenger rail and the downtown multi-modal station.

The importance of the Atlanta streetcar is underscored by the commitment of Atlanta, MARTA and the business communities of downtown and Midtown to pursue an innovative partnership to apply for a Transit Initiatives to Generate Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. TIGER grants represent federal funding earmarked specifically to serve as capital for transit-related initiatives.

One criterion for funding is that the project be fully planned, designed and engineered — or “shovel-ready.” Due to the feasibility study completed by the Peachtree Corridor Project, the Atlanta streetcar has the potential to break ground upon receipt of funding. It also carries with it the unique benefit of federal investment in hospitality and entertainment sector job creation, alongside its impact on intra-city and regional connectivity.

With a very narrow timeline for planning and preparing an application, local government, transit and business entities have collaborated to bring this vision to fruition. TIGER funding will be disbursed to applicants from across the nation, and we believe that the Atlanta streetcar will stand out as a project that is crucial to the state’s regional connectivity and long-term economic sustainability.

Though the exact details of the structure can only be determined after funding is received, we envision a public-private partnership to oversee the Atlanta streetcar. All of the partners are committed to a viable, stable financial arrangement.

The long-term vision for the proposed streetcar includes a south-to-north route beginning at Fort McPherson and ending at the Brookhaven Station, and an east-to-west route connecting the King Center to the Centennial Olympic Park area west of Peachtree Street. The TIGER funding will kick-start the initial phase, focusing on the core midtown-to-downtown route on Peachtree and the east-west corridor. As they become available, additional federal funding opportunities will be pursued to further fund the streetcar’s expansion.

Improving Atlanta’s stature as a world-class city will be accomplished by moving toward the future decisively. We must take our cues from the streetcar and recognize that every route has a first stop.

Shirley Franklin is mayor of Atlanta.