Augusta Trolley Study is Mostly Praised
By Sylvia Cooper, staff writer
The Augusta Chronicle
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.
Shame on Jacksonville, for backwoods thinking, small town planning, and good old boy transit deals. We created the TPC and took the home of the PGA TOUR and yet Augusta still wows the international golf community with the "Masters" and those stupid green jackets.
For 30 years, since the days of Jake Godbold, I have been pounding the bricks with these development numbers, often in a friendless one man war to shake some sense into our city.
When I started this, San Diego was the first City in 40 years to construct (then under construction on an old rail line) a new Streetcar or LRT line. Portland, Oregon was "Talking about it but nothing looked promising..." I presented Jacksonville Downtown Development Authority with a plan to use some of our old and original streetcars, REBUILT. Oddly enough about 4.5 miles to the inch in length. To revive the dead, to bring back something of a specter, to the streets of Jacksonville. Unique to our city. Once the greatest Traction system in Florida, I reasoned it would be as big an East Coast attraction as San Francisco's cable cars are out west. Well, sadly I was wrong. Jacksonville quietly asked me to shut up and go away, and we never built the first HERITAGE TROLLEY SYSTEM. We ignored it even as one or two other towns and Cities tried it. We cut up 5 perfectly good Jacksonville Trolleys during the next 30 years. Today, 68+ Cities have this concept. The amazing thing is even the newest ones are still bringing in returns of 30 - *920% on every dollar invested. You'd think some Jacksonville developers, hotels or the Landing would call me, you'd think the politicians would want me as their best friend, you'd think I'd be leading a think tank over at JTA... You'd be wrong. This is Jacksonville, a place where our own streetcars once wore a jacket of Augusta green.
*(Little Rock, Arkansas has a similar length line, and has hit a 920% return on investment)