Thursday, April 23, 2009

Augusta, Ga., selects streetcar route

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While Atlanta, Georgia’s state capital, struggles to identify and agree on passenger rail expansion—Atlanta is wrestling with MARTA, regional rail, and Amtrak access issues—Augusta, Ga, appears to be moving ahead more successfully, if more modestly, selecting a specific, 2.5-mile route for an initial “light rail” (or streetcar) line serving downtown.

URS Corp., hired by the Downtown Development Authority of Augusta, estimates the system would cost about $25 million. DDAA seeks to use the project as a tool to spur economic development in the city. If implemented, the system would be Georgia's first streetcar or light rail system since U.S. cities began adding or restoring such systems, beginning with San Diego in 1981 (though Savannah, Ga., also is pondering a streetcar operation, with cars possibly powered by batteries instead of overhead catenary).

augusta_route.jpg

Among several routes studied, URS found the most feasible (shown at left, courtesy of URS and the Augusta Chronicle) would be street running on Broad and Reynolds streets, between 13th and Seventh streets, then proceeding to the  city’s medical district and possibly crossing the Savannah River into North Augusta. Another leg would travel down Seventh Street to James Brown Arena.

DDAA Executive Director Margaret Woodard said planners wanted a design that served downtown attractions, had room for developmentalong the line, and served downtown workers. The chosen route “hit all three criteria,” including access to the Medical College of Georgia. City transit planner Uriah Lewis said he would be able to use the streetcar system as part of the public transit system, moving three bus routes to other parts of thecity.

URS planner Brian Piascik justified the streetcar system basednot on Augusta's overall population but for its value as a development tool.URS hopes to establish ridership estimates for the system within the next month.