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ATL Versus DC: The Epic Streetcar Race That We Just Won

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The opening of the Atlanta Streetcar has garnered national attention since its Dec. 30 debut. That said, it's been maligned by many for cost overruns and perpetual delays, and some still lambast it as a costly, protracted boondoggle. But in a way, it's already victorious! An article by Metro Business Media comparing the construction of the Atlanta Streetcar to the Washington, DC streetcar helps to put our woes into perspective. The two projects, similar in many ways, demonstrate that Atlanta's experience might have gone a lot more smoothly than it could have. Whether it's an indictment of Washington's hopeless bureaucracy or a demonstration of Atlanta's superiority and efficiency — who knows? But it's interesting to see a city that was able to build an extensive subway and commuter rail network at the same time we built our less-than-extensive network can't seem to finish a 2.2-mile streetcar line — a full half-mile shorter than our open system.

Just for kicks, let's pretend this was a streetcar race from the get-go. On your marks, get set ...

The genesis of the Atlanta Streetcar came in a July 2009 feasibility study by the Atlanta City Council; at that time, Washington, DC was already in the process of physically laying tracks for a 2.2-mile streetcar line. With the head start, it seemed DC ran a pretty good chance of meeting the anticipated completion date of spring 2012. For Atlanta, it was only proverbial tracks that were being laid, even in September 2010, when the Federal Transit Administration awarded a $47.6 TIGER II grant — the largest ever of its kind — to the city for implementation of the plan. Atlanta didn't even break ground on the streetcar until February 2012, when things were supposed to be wrapping up in DC.

Of course, the Atlanta system ended up opening just shy of three years later, over a year late, and more than a few million dollars over budget. In the cost comparison, the Atlanta streetcar came in at just under $100 million for the 2.7-mile loop, meaning Atlanta, through various channels, provided around $50 million for the endeavor. Washington, DC, on the other hand, has spent a staggering $153 million on their line; more than double the cost per mile of the Atlanta system.

So what's become of the Washington streetcar? With a head start, a shorter route, a greater tax investment and the benefit of a city that's embraced transit more wholeheartedly than we have, how has the project fared? Metro Business indicates that DC has encountered an issue that is all too familiar: safety concerns and numerous wrecks have delayed the opening of the DC streetcar line until the end of this month, almost six years after construction began.

So, basically, we win!

· Atlanta Beats Washington, D.C. in Streetcar Race [Metro Business Media]
· Atlanta Hopes a Three-Mile Streetcar Route Will Help Foster a New Urban Image [NY Times]
· The Atlanta Streetcar is 100 Percent About to Open. Maybe [Curbed Atlanta]
· D.C. Streetcars Involved in 9 Accidents Since October 2014 [NBC Washington]