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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Atlanta breaks ground on downtown streetcar

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, center, and city and transit officials toss dirt, while a guy on the left gets his photobomb on
  • Thomas Wheatley's iPhone
  • Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, center, Mayor Kasim Reed and city and transit officials toss dirt, while the gentleman on the left gets his photobomb on
Yep! Mayor Kasim Reed and city and transit officials gathered in the Old Fourth Ward this morning to tell U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the city's cashing the $47.6 million check it was awarded last year to build a downtown streetcar between the King Center and Centennial Olympic Park. The mayor says to expect 24 to 30 months of construction activity.

Check back in a few minutes for a full summary of the event, which was packed. In the meantime, please discuss a very interesting question "zedsmith" raised on Twitter: "pols shoveling stuff. Do other countries have this tableau?"

UPDATE, 1:07 p.m. More than 100 people joined Reed and LaHood to mark the beginning of construction on the transit project, which the mayor says is the largest federal award Atlanta's received in the last decade, with the exception of MARTA and the airport.

Once built, the streetcar would glide along Edgewood and Auburn avenues to connect residents and tourists to the King Center and Centennial Olympic Park. Along the way it'll pass Wheat Street Garden, Georgia State University, and many vacant mixed-use buildings that streetcar supporters hope will attract businesses. The project will thankfully include bike lanes. (Edgewood Avenue is one of Atlanta's most popular — if not the most popular — bike lane in the city.

LaHood highlighted the streetcar's potential to spark redevelopment along the historic yet neglected area: "This corridor will become an economic corridor. For all the small businesses that will be located along here. What an opportunity to showcase Dr. King's church along this corridor. The thousands of people who will come here to see the beauty of this area."

He continued: "You know what will be here five to ten years from now? A lot of tourists looking for a place to eat, a cool glass of water, or something else cool. Looking for an opportunity to look at a historic church. Looking for an opportunity to look at the history in this magnificent city. It's about now but also about the future."

A.J. Robinson of the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, which would contribute some operations funding for the transit line, noted that incoming businesses, including new investors in the Hurt Building and the Equitable Building, and a new Waffle House near Centennial Olympic Park (which apparently is unlike any other), noticed the project.

"A lot of these people are telling us this [activity] is because of the future streetcar," he said.

City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who represents the area the streetcar will serve, said the transit line would help link the Old Fourth Ward and Sweet Auburn to downtown.

"Years ago, when investments were made in the Sweet Auburn district, they really weren't investments that benefited the community," City Councilman Kwanza Hall said, referring to the interstate that cut the Old Fourth Ward from downtown. "These destroyed the African-American businesse that were so vibrant here. The new connector will be this streetcar. This means a lot to us."

And lest we forget: LaHood also took a moment to applaud the mayor and Gov. Nathan Deal and their bipartisan efforts to lobby federal officials for funding to deepen the Port of Savannah.

"I'm delighted to announce that Atlanta and Georgia has its act together," LaHood said to loud applause. "Two people who deserve the lion's share of credit are Mayor Reed and Governor Deal. They've taken politics out of good policy. They've taken politics out of getting things done for the people. What a listen they could teach some of our friends in Washington. When you put good policy in place — when you put politics aside and put people first — good things happen. That's why I'm here today."

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