After months of delay, the Atlanta streetcar project is poised to lay down its first section of tracks.
“We expect to begin laying them down early next month,” said Tom Weyandt, Atlanta’s senior policy adviser for transportation.
Unexpected issues related to moving utility lines set the project back about six months.
“We’re building this in two of the oldest parts of the city – the Martin Luther King district and the Auburn Avenue district,” said Weyandt. “You have to deal with the spaghetti of utilities down underneath the street and sidewalks.”
He said the project risked much greater delay if utility relocations weren’t adequately addressed on the front-end.
“We accepted the trade-off of a little bit of a delay on the schedule in exchange for more certainty in what we were going to find – or what the contractor rather was going to find – once construction [on the tracks] gets started.”
The streetcar is now expected to go online by spring 2014. That’s opposed to the original completion date of August 2013.
Despite the delay, Weyandt says he doesn’t anticipate the project eclipsing its $70 million budget.
“I won’t make a prediction about where we will end up but at this point we believe we can do this within the budget we have,” said Weyandt.
Still, some of the project’s biggest supporters are concerned.
Ashley Robbins of Citizens for Progressive Transit said the streetcar project is a key opportunity to build public trust following the defeat of last summer’s regional transportation referendum.
She said opponents will use delays and cost overruns to bolster arguments against transit investment.
“The streetcar needs to set a good precedent for future expansion projects – projects like a light rail extension to the [Atlanta] Beltline,” said Robbins.