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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Beltline will yield to downtown streetcar, sit out upcoming federal funding round

When applications for a sought-after pot of federal cash start flooding the U.S. Department of Transportation's mailbox on Monday, the Beltline won't be among them.

In a move that could give the downtown streetcar project a better chance at becoming a reality, project officials say the proposed 22-mile loop of parks, trails and (one day) transit won't compete for an upcoming round of federal funding. (UPDATE: Here's the official statement released yesterday by Atlanta Beltline Inc., the nonprofit entity tasked with planning and developing the $2.8 billion project.)

The feds plan to dole out as much as $600 million to transit projects later this year. The program, known as TIGER II, is designed to help build transportation projects that will help create jobs, improve walkability and spur development during the down economy. Applications are due Monday, Aug. 23.

Beltline officials considered asking for $13 million to beef up the project's trails and nearby streetscapes. Among the proposed fixes: extending the West End Trail from I-20 to Washington Park and from Lawton Street to University Avenue. They also wanted to use the funds to stretch the Eastside trail from DeKalb Avenue to Glenwood Avenue. Streetscapes and connections along the Beltline's eastern segment would've been improved as well. A petition drive to show federal officials the high level of local support for the project garnered more than 4,000 signatures.

But officials say they've decided not to submit the application — in part to give the downtown streetcar a better chance to secure much-needed federal cash.

The City of Atlanta will apply for up to $52 million to build a scaled-back first phase of the streetcar project that would link Centennial Olympic Park to Auburn and Edgewood avenues. (An earlier application for nearly $300 million that included the Peachtree Street line was unsuccessful, partly because city officials offered no matching funds and part of the route would've mirrored an existing MARTA train route.)

In a move that was met with some pushback from some residents and members of the Atlanta City Council, the city has agreed to put up as much as $10 million in bond funds if its streetcar application is approved. Downtown civic group Central Atlanta Progress will also pitch in $10 million.

"[The streetcar] is a really critical project for the city and for the Atlanta Beltline," a project official told CL. "It complements the Atlanta Beltline and will ultimately connect to it. And they have a much bigger ask this time. We are fully supportive of the streetcar and its application. And we're going to be pursuing other opportunities that will be available to us in the short and long term."

Beltline honchos are working with Georgia's congressional delegation during the appropriation process and other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency. Those efforts are in addition to federal grant opportunities currently under consideration.

Note: This post has been updated to point readers to the Beltline officials' statement about the decision.

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