Atlanta’s mayoral race viewpoint: Cathy Woolard offers her transit vision

Atlanta Business Chronicle

by Cathy Woolard

Atlanta has long been a city of bold ideas, and at essential moments in our history that boldness has been in the form of critical infrastructure that has catalyzed our growth and prosperity. Railroads. The world’s busiest airport. The Atlanta Beltline. And a fully built out streetcar system with connections enhanced by more local bus, sidewalk and bike facilities is our next step to continued greatness.If we act with renewed boldness and vision, we can make this happen in eight years – before the next class of first-graders heads to high school.

The transit vision for the metro Atlanta region includes expansion of Marta light rail and growth of other transportation modes. While we work with leaders across jurisdictions to collaborate on a larger regional network, Atlanta can get going now. Our local transit future is a 40-mile streetcar system that has already been endorsed by federal transportation authorities and the Atlanta City Council in 2015.

Building out this streetcar system is estimated to cost $3.2 billion and take fifteen years. But there is a far faster and more cost-effective approach.A public-private partnership can get this done in half the time and at a fraction of the cost. Such a model, in which private sector partners design, build, and finance the system while operating and maintaining the system with local transit partners, has been used in Denver to build out a large portion of that region’s transit grid. It has recently been embraced in Washington, D.C., for build out of the new Purple Line.

The public-private partnership approach brings private upfront capital to the table which makes it feasible to build out a network at scale. A single integrated project reduces complexity which lowers costs. More significantly, collapsing the timetable from fifteen years to eight shaves off years of construction cost escalation and unnecessary financing expense. Collectively, this could yield at least a 20 percent savings, and for Atlanta that means reducing total project costs by a staggering $640 million. Using different streetcar technology with slimmer cars and no overhead wires could reduce costs by another 5 percent, reduce visual clutter and probably allow for dedicated transit lanes along at least some of these routes.