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Atlanta Streetcar Needs to Dig Up Billions of Dollars

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It looks like the city is going to have to find a helluva lot of coin if new construction on the Atlanta Streetcar is going to move forward. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the streetcar plan approved this week could cost upwards of $5 billion to implement and, as of right now, no one's really sure where they're going to find that cash.

The existing Atlanta Streetcar, which circles a 2.7-mile track in downtown Atlanta, cost about $98 million to launch and three years to build. The Streetcar System Plan approved by the Atlanta City Council calls for over 50 miles of streetcar track. The system plan from last year broke the project down into four different priority phases that would take decades to complete.

The way forward for the streetcar program is unclear at best and clearly stunted at worst, as a funding method for the SSP is not currently in place. According to the AJC, John Orr, transportation division manager for the Atlanta Regional Commission, said to expect a mix of federal and regional funding. That's about as vague as a recipe whose only instructions are "combine dry and wet ingredients."

Having the SSP means the city can now pursue funding from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts Program, a competitive grant iniviative that provides close to $2 billion per year for transit projects nationwide; it helped fund MARTA's construction. But, there's no guarantee the streetcar project will win out. The city recently failed to acquire funding through U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER Grants.

The streetcar plan could end up on a Fulton County referendum next year, but proponents would have to get past vocal opposition to alternative transportation projects from cities in North Fulton. Board Chairman Robbie Ashe said MARTA's own long-shot tax-increase could be used for streetcar funding, but that seems unlikely since MARTA has its own expansion plans.

At this point, it might be easier to start looking for sunken treasure.

· Atlanta Streetcar Plan Approval May Not Matter Much [Curbed]
· Atlanta Streetcar Hits a Federal Funding Roadblock [Curbed]
· Atlanta approves ambitious streetcar expansion plan [AJC]
· Legislators pondering a MARTA expansion referendum [AJC]
· The Atlanta Streetcar is 100 Percent About to Open. Maybe [Curbed]