Augusta Readies Streetcar Proposal

Downtown Augusta Streetcar Map2.5-mile route would reach downtown’s biggest destinations

Augusta, Georgia, sitting on the state line with South Carolina, is the state’s second largest city with about 200,000 more than 500,000 inhabitants. Like most southern cities, it’s not particularly dense, but its downtown has been growing in recent decades. Though the city has a public transportation service, it is not hugely popular. The board of the downtown development authority, however, thinks that a streetcar line connecting some of the center city’s most popular destinations would be well used and a development booster.

The Augusta Chronicle reports that the downtown group is currently studying a preferred corridor, running north-south along 13th street to serve the medical district in the southern part of the center city and possibly across the Savannah River to North Augusta in South Carolina. Two parallel east-west lines would run on Reynolds and Broad Streets to a planned new bus depot. At $2.5 million, the corridor would cost $25 million to build, though the authority’s cost estimates are very much estimates – little actual design has been completed thus far.

The city lacks a funding mechanism to build the project, though the downtown development authority could presumably use a transit district tax that would be imposed only on property in areas immediately surrounding the proposed lines. This taxation system is also proposed for Atlanta’s Peachtree Streetcar. I have my doubts about the viability of Augusta’s plan, unlike Atlanta’s, which would serve the South’s biggest downtown. The north Georgia city is too small, its downtown too filled with abandoned lots, and too little of a history of mass transit usage.

That said, city leaders are looking at Little Rock, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee for inspiration, both of which have incredibly low ridership. At least they haven’t deceived themselves into thinking that this project is suddenly going to alter travel patterns for a significant portion of the workforce…

Image above: Augusta Streetcar plan, from Augusta Chronicle

8 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Adam

    Not sure where you’re getting that Augusta has 500,000 people. More like 200,000.

    LINK

  • Adam –
    Thanks. Not sure where that came from, either. It would have made Augusta as big as Atlanta, which it’s not.

  • Adam

    Sorry, I see now…

    LINK

  • Adam

    Yeah even with the official numbers it seems a bit of a stretch. Some of the counties in the MSA are pretty far away from Augusta. McDuffie and Edgefield counties for instance.

  • Woody

    Be careful what you ask for. That classic advice goes for Little Rock. They have a “heritage” trolley downtown, added a few blocks to make it run to the Clinton Library as a tourist attraction, I guess. Now they have plans to extend the line to the airport, but not using heritage cars for that.

    I’m no fan of “heritage” trolleys. Put them in the museum.

    Fifty years of technological advances in Europe have given us low-floor streetcars that allow step-on boarding from the curb. Low-floor cars transform the boarding experience for parents with kids in strollers, for people in wheelchairs, for old folks and others with a touch of arthritis or similar difficulties in climbing the steps to enter a “heritage” type vehicle. And for all other people in line behind them.

    Sleek, modern, off the shelf streetcars could make sense if putting in the tracks could really be done for $25 million. You say many empty lots, so transit oriented development might infill the vacant space, adding directly to the tax base and probably improving the value of the buildings now abutting vacant lots.

    Usually we expect to put rail into a corridor with proven passenger loads on buses. But rail is always more energy efficient, gets about 10% more riders than a bus ever can attract, and will generate TOD.

    If Augusta wants to try streetcars now for only $25 million, it’s not a budget busting deal. Hey, I can name four big banks that just the other day each got 1,000 times that much money. And what did the taxpayers of Augusta get out of that? Gimme a streetcar any day.

  • chris

    to the fact that a city of 200,000 can pull this off makes atlanta look even more incompitant..

  • I have my doubts about the viability of Augusta’s plan, unlike Atlanta’s, which would serve the South’s biggest downtown. The north Georgia city is too small

    I’d like to see some data on how the size of a particular downtown affects the viability of streetcars. We know that streetcars can help drive density, and thus streetcars are ‘self-fulfilling’. how many people have to live ‘downtown’ to support a streetcar line?

    its downtown too filled with abandoned lots

    same argument. streetcars attract development, mixed use if done right. downtown already seems to be making a comeback. new/first grocery store opening on Broad Street for the first time in forever on June 30 — ‘Du Jour’.

    still lots of available apartments, but condos have been built, and more development appears on the way, if only slowed by the recession.

    the Obama stimulus is going to employ a lot of people at two of the three area’s largest employers — Savannah River Site (nukes) and Fort Gordon (Army Signal) — both 20 miles away from downtown, southeast and soutwest, respectively. The Medical College of Georgia is a mile or two from downtown, and the entire medical complex employs about 25,000 people, worth almost $2 Billion in economic activity, with more on the way. I suspect the med campus would be on the route.

    incidentally, the main street in downtown Augusta, Broad Street, is one of the most fantastic streets i’ve ever been on.

    too little of a history of mass transit usage.

    don’t know about this. nobody i’ve ever met likes to ride the bus — bus is not transit. so saying that there is ‘too little history of mass transit usage’ is like saying China has too little history with state capitalism — looks to me like they’re taking to it like a fish to water.

    i’m guessing we could make plenty of statements about mass transit use in plenty of places that never before had real transit. maybe Phoenix? (which has a new light rail line that people love)

    Augusta used to have a trolley lines, including one that ran up to Aiken — why not again?

    :)

  • i have more objections. :)

    small roads are built out to the middle of nowhere all the time — where there is zero density. by your standard, they are not viable. so if we’re going to build anything, should it _not_ be viable out in the sticks, or _not_ viable in the core? at least in town, we’d be preserving greenspace–at a minimum. and more than likely, dense areas will survive and thrive — as seen globally, with more than 50% of the world’s population now living in cities.

    there’s also the issue of urban growth boundaries — which, i don’t believe georgia–like most states–has heard of yet. that will continue to fuel government subsidizing builders to go further and further out. so, us smart-growth, small-government activists still have some work to do there.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_growth_boundary

    downtown augusta has other huge draws — a beautiful river with a lovely Riverwalk along it, a canal which will soon open to kayaking, and great, old architecture, great climate, etc. it’s got the ‘sense of place’ that neighboring Columbia County would die for. downtown Augusta has the natural amenities that people developed here for in the first place. as JHK says–there’s a reason things developed where they developed.

    add rising fuel prices, global warming, a new awareness of livable streets and how it/they connect to larger issues of healthcare and social inclusion and global warming and all the rest — and downtown anywhere is a sure winner. add a streetcar, and it’ll only happen faster, imho. :)

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