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Most of the Beltline’s Eastside Trail is still dark at night. But why?

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Six years since the Beltline’s most popular path opened, the lighting ETA is still unclear

A rendering of lighting along the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail at night.
An early rendering of proposed lighting along the Eastside Trail.
Light the Line

More than six years after construction wrapped, and three years since the Atlanta Beltline Partnership launched a campaign to help fund lighting fixtures along the Eastside Trail, most of the path is still dark when the sun goes down. But why?

It’s a pertinent question as spring swiftly approaches and daylight savings time is on the horizon Sunday—both reasons for Beltline patrons to stay out later.

Quick history: In early 2016, an initiative called Light the Line aimed to raise $1.1 million to fund solar-powered, self-dimming lights every 90 feet along the first paved leg of the Eastside Trail, which ran from Old Fourth Ward’s Irwin Street to Midtown’s Piedmont Park.

Although the fundraising campaign didn’t pan out as expected—ABI identified public funds that could be used for the lighting project, and the initiative ended—officials still say the money is there for the installations.

So where are the lights? It’s a question many Curbed Atlanta readers—and contributors—have been asking for several years.

The Beltline’s principal landscape architect Kevin Burke told one curious Atlantan via email in February that the lighting project would be released for construction this spring.

“However, that is dependent on GDOT releasing the designated funds and that may have been/will be impacted by federal government shutdowns which negatively impacts its ability to release [funding],” Burke wrote.

The most recent shutdown ended January 25, but Beltline officials have been unable to provide Curbed with a timeline update since.

(Update: A Beltline spokesperson said construction should begin some time in 2019.)

ABP communications director Jess Hunt-Ralston said she doesn’t think GDOT is currently holding up any funds.

“While I can’t speak to a dollar amount or logistics after the Light the Line campaign ended, it’s my understanding that funding is in place for the lighting project and that ABI is working on a timeline for implementation and construction,” she said.

Beltline spokeswoman Jenny Odom said via email today that officials are working through the process of receiving federal funding through GDOT, “which is the part that’s taken time.”

“We are committed to being the best possible stewards of taxpayer dollars by leveraging these funds through our partners at GDOT,” she added.

How long that process could take, though, is unclear.

The difference in visibility between Eastside Trail sections lighted ...
... and not.
Photos: Curbed Atlanta

When asked for a timeline update in October 2017, Beltline reps said the lights would be installed in spring 2018.

In June 2018, no visible progress had been made, so Curbed followed up.

Said Odom then: “It’s not looking like we’re going to have an answer in the near term.”

Odom told Curbed this week she’s trying to provide a “solid timeline” that would include when ABI plans to issue a request for proposals from construction firms.

There are, however, a couple of updates the Beltline has been able to provide: The new lights will not be solar-powered, and the project budget has bumped up to $1.5 million.

As with Eastside Trail lights installed farther south, the lights will be self-dimming, which is how they were marketed when ABP kicked off the Light the Line campaign at Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall three years ago.

At that kickoff event, Ponce City Market developer Jamestown Properties wrote the first check for the lighting project—$100,000.

That money was later redirected to help fund the development of the Atlanta Beltline Center, a visitor center on the newer (already lighted) part of the Eastside Trail south of Irwin Street.

“Jamestown was fully involved in the decision to have their $100,000 support the construction of the [center],” said Rob Brawner, ABP’s executive director.

The total amount raised from private donors, said Hunt-Ralston, was just $47,225, which was collected before “additional external funding became available for the lighting project.”

That cash was set aside and remains available for the lighting project, said Hunt-Ralston.

Meanwhile, $560,000 is coming from GDOT, and the remaining $892,775 from ABI coffers.

Until those dollars are spent, though, wise Beltline patrons should pack flashlights and equip bikes with lights and reflectors at night.