New Head of Atlanta Streetcar Sees Project as Transformative

Tim Borchers begins this week as Atlanta’s deputy commissioner of public works and the streetcar project’s executive director.

He steps in with more than 30 years of transit experience and the belief that streetcars can transform cities.

“It’s been happening all over the world. Streetcar systems are being used to rebuild decaying urban cores, give a financial boost to cities, relieve traffic, help the environment, and also, of course, provide public transportation.”

Borchers originally hails from Bendigo, Australia, a city about 90 miles northwest of Melbourne. The 52-year-old started as a mechanic for Bendigo Tramways and worked his way up to managing the system. In 2002, he moved to the U.S. to oversee Tampa Bay’s newly built streetcar system. In 2008, he turned to consulting and advised projects in Memphis, Savannah, St. Louis, and Tuscon.

Borchers says what made the Atlanta job particularly attractive is the city’s support for the project.

“I came up and realized this was a system that had political will and along the way a lot of good decisions had been made.”

He especially likes the route – from Centennial Park through the Sweet Auburn district to the MLK memorial site – and its potential connectivity with MARTA and the Beltline.

“I’ve already seen the Beltline working. I was in Paris last year and they’re building their own Beltline and I know the city is a little larger, but [it’s] exactly the same concept.”

MARTA Deputy General Manager Dwight Ferrell served as the streetcar’s first project manager, but in September, he was abruptly removed from the position. City officials declined to give a reason why, but some involved in the project speculated it was a combination of personality and performance issues.

Project leaders subsequently revealed construction was running about six months behind schedule due to issues related to utility line relocations.

Borchers says the project was bound to run into some issues, but added its revised $93 million budget includes contingency funds.

“Do I think this project is going to be a $100 million blowout? No, it’s not going to be that,” said Borchers. “But certainly as you go through and there’s undiscovered utilities and other items which cause issues along the way, those issues take a little bit of time and money to deal with.”

The project’s completion date remains set for spring 2014.

In the meantime, Borchers, who will be paid $135,000 per year, is staying in a hotel as he looks to purchase a home in downtown Atlanta. 

“I have a realtor who’s got a copy of the streetcar route map. I plan on putting my money where my mouth is.”