Rare TIGER escapes, derails streetcar

The Atlanta Streetcar might be stuck on the drawing board for a while yet. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the recipients of federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants on February 17 and the streetcar project wasn’t on the list. The city of Atlanta, MARTA, Central Atlanta Progress and Midtown Alliance partnered to apply for TIGER funds for the transit project, which is projected to cost $298.3 million.


Atlanta wasn’t the only city that TIGER got away from. None of the other 32 Georgia communities that applied for grants received funding either.

If built as planned, the Atlanta Streetcar project would include a route on Peachtree from Five Points station to Savannah College of Art and Design and an east-west loop from the Centennial Olympic Park/Georgia Aquarium area to the King Center. An alternative plan, also included in the partnership’s application, proposes options for building the streetcar in phases if it can’t be funded all at once.

TIGER might be Atlanta Streetcar’s best hope for getting out of the starting gate some time soon, as the program’s criteria didn’t require local matching funds. The whole project, had it been funded, could have been built with federal stimulus money, keeping local tax revenue available to do things like help stabilize MARTA.

This round of TIGER grants will provide $1.5 billion for 51 transportation projects all over the country. U.S. DOT received 1,457 applications making a total of more than $59 billion in funding requests – nearly 40 times the money that was available. Atlanta Streetcar’s funding request was among the largest in the program, one of only 82 projects that sought more than $100 million.

If you’re interested, you can see details on the 51 of the awarded projects (PDF) here.

But the streetcar coalition seems as determined as ever. “We are in a very competitive world, and we’ve got to work harder to advance this project,” A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, told Maria Saporta at Saporta Report after the disappointing news. “We will eventually figure this out.”

Mayor Kasim Reed also remains committed to tracking down cash for the ambitious project. “[W]e will continue to aggressively pursue avenues for funding the streetcar initiative and I will be personally involved in securing the necessary funds at the Federal level,” he said in a statement released after the TIGER announcement.

U.S. DOT will award another, smaller batch of TIGER grants later this year. Total funding in the second cycle will be $600 million (See the Jan. 21, 2009 statement.) .

Atlanta’s streetcar is also in the running for up to $25 million of the $280 million in grants to be awarded by the U.S. DOT’s Livability Initiative, a program established specifically to fund streetcar and circulator bus projects.

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