Transportation secretary praises Atlanta streetcar project, leaves check

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Despite passing over Atlanta’s attempt earlier this year to fund a streetcar, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gushed praise for the city Wednesday in presenting a check for almost $48 million for a scaled-down version of the transportation line.

LaHood said Atlanta dreamed big and that propelled the city to win its bid for federal funding to run a streetcar from the King Center to Centennial Olympic Park.

“We’re here today because you all have your act together,” LaHood said at a news conference near the King Center. “People have to come together around a common agenda, list the priorities and then start working on them. And this community knows how to do it.

“I hope soon the state will take your lead and become a model for it,” he said.

It’s a switch from February, when Atlanta got nothing. The city had sought almost $300 million for a Peachtree streetcar that would run from downtown to Midtown. But under that proposal, the city put up no matching funds, which some say hurt Atlanta’s chances.

Mayor Kasim Reed, when announcing last week that Atlanta had won with its second bid, said he slimmed down the request because he thought the first one had too many requests.

“The only thing we were talking about in the city of Atlanta was this project,” he said of the second bid. “We changed from what we did before.”

The project will cost about $72 million, with $10 million coming from the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District and about $15.6 million from the city as part of the local match for capital costs, Reed’s office said.

The city also will provide up to $1 million annually in hotel/motel and car rental taxes for operations and maintenance.

Construction will begin in 2012, with operation of the streetcar set for sometime the following year. About 930 construction jobs will be created in the initial phase of the project, and more than 5,000 are forecast over 20 years, Reed’s office said.

The streetcar will connect some of the city’s biggest attractions, including the King Center, the Georgia Aquarium and the CNN Center.

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