Atlanta Beats Washington, D.C. in Streetcar Race

Atlanta and Washington, D.C. have parallel pasts in launching very similar transit systems; their heavy rail lines — Washington Metro and Atlanta MARTA — were designed in similar fashion as quasi subway and commuter rail operations and they even launched a little over four years apart.

On December 30, 2014 a new chapter in rail service began for the City of Atlanta but not for the nation’s capital. The District of Columbia government has pushed back the launch date of its H street/Benning Road streetcar rail service from December 31, 2014 to the week of January 19, 2015; in part to conduct further streetcar testing.

The streetcars in both cities are supposed to revitalize blighted and aging urban areas in addition to giving people a “better” alternative transit option. In Atlanta the 2.7 mile streetcar will whiz through downtown Atlanta at a cost of approximately $100 million. In Washington, D.C. phase 1 of the H Street/Benning Road line is 2.2 miles of track that will aid patrons in travel along the namesake corridor in the north east section of the city. The price tag is approximately $153 million. Several big real estate development projects are well underway before the streetcars officially roll down the line.

In Atlanta, the streetcar plan has moved relatively quickly from conception to reality compared to the plan in Washington, D.C. which has stalled and changed faces several times. Atlanta City Council initiated a feasibility study in July 2009 and the city won a TIGER II federal grant of $47.6 million from the Federal Transit Administration in September 2010. As mentioned, the Atlanta streetcar is now up and running. In that same time frame the District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDOT) was already laying streetcar rail lines on H Street starting as far back as July 2009 with anticipation of service to begin in the spring of 2012. Nearly two years later the D.C. streetcar is expected to commence service at the end of this month.

While the Atlanta streetcar was planned after the Washington, D.C. line it not only managed to launch before but also within a budget that’s well under that of Washington, D.C. and with more track on the ground. The diagnosis? Could be another case of paralysis by analysis that the Washington, D.C. area is known for, unfortunately the result is always most likely going overbudget and overtime.


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