Trolley study is mostly praised

The Downtown Development Authority's plan to spend $37,000 in special-purpose sales-tax money for a trolley study received mostly positive reviews from Augusta commissioners Monday.

 

"I think if we do something like this it will put us on the cutting edge," said Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard. "This would be a tremendous beginning."

Commissioner Calvin Holland said it is what he calls "thinking outside the box."

But Commissioner Jerry Brigham had questions about long-term costs.

"We know the city of Atlanta has the MARTA tax to underwrite public transit," he said. "Augusta doesn't have a MARTA tax. How are we going to fund the long-term costs of operations? That's the real question."

The Augusta transit system already loses about $4 million a year, and that loss is covered by transfers from the general fund that come mainly from property taxes.

The authority's executive director, Margaret Woodard, said a trolley could help revitalize downtown Augusta by promoting economic development on its route.

"Twenty to 30 times what you invest in a trolley is going to come back in re-development," she said. "Little Rock's return on investment was 920 percent. Developers want to develop along the line for two reasons. No. 1, it shows a real commitment by the city to invest in some type of transportation that's energy-efficient, and No. 2, they don't have to build parking as much as they would."

The 4.5-mile light rail track would run on Broad Street, along part of the Augusta Canal and up 15th Street to the Medical College of Georgia complex, with the expectation that people would ride it downtown for lunch.

Commissioner Don Grantham proposed a 60- to 90-day trial of that concept using a bus, but transit planner Uriah Lewis said that had been tried before and didn't work due to traffic in the area around Harper Street.

Fifty percent of the money to build the track, estimated to cost between $50 million and $175 million, could be paid for with money from the federal Small Starts programs and the private sector, Ms. Woodard said.

In addition, it could possibly be powered by the Augusta Canal, making it the first such trolley system in the country, she said.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

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