Downtown Atlanta Using Special Assessments to Fund Transit Investments
Construction costs for Atlanta’s new Downtown streetcar line are being funded by commercial property tax assessments. The $83 million streetcar project, which is scheduled for completion in 2013, will include 2.6 miles (4.2 km) of track and 12 stations, and is expected to solve transit connectivity problems and accelerate the economic revitalization of downtown.
The Atlanta Downtown Improvement District is setting aside for the streetcar a portion of its revenue generated from an annual assessment of 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed commercial value on 200 city blocks. In 2010, the district’s board, which has long championed the streetcar project, approved an allocation for transit from the district’s ongoing funding of up to $20 million over 20 years, split between construction and annual operating contributions.
Downtown real estate leaders, including Craig Jones, executive vice president at Cousins Properties, see the streetcar as critical to the future of the city. "For our high-rise properties to work, you really need transit," Jones said in an interview. "And we feel that the streetcar will result in more development and raise the values of our existing property."
Jones noted that the support for transit reflects the improvement district’s priorities. "This was the first time that we’ve allocated money to transit. Before, the district funded capital projects like streetscape improvements, and we’ll still have money for items like that," he said. "But we know that transit is important to the region being able to grow, and we understand the value of infrastructure. It’s enlightened self-interest."
The property assessments are a key component of the funding package for the transit line. An initial bid for federal funding under the federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant program failed, but in 2010 a reconfigured application, with a scaled-down funding request and additional local contributions, won the project nearly $48 million in TIGER II money. With funding from the city and other sources covering the remaining capital costs, efforts are now focused on determining how the system will be operated.