Government Waste

Atlanta Plans To Blow $230 Million on 2-Mile Extension of Useless Streetcar

That's more than $21,000 per foot. And the tab doesn't include operating costs, which taxpayers will also heavily subsidize.


What is already arguably America's worst public transit project is about to get a whole lot more expensive.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) is moving ahead with plans to build a 2-mile extension to the city's 2.7-mile streetcar line, with an estimated price tag of $230 millionThe Center Square reports that the first batch of that new spending—an $11.5 million contract awarded to a firm that will design the extension—was doled out last week. The project is being funded by a half-cent increase in the Atlanta sales tax, and the extension is scheduled to open in 2028.

Even if the extension doesn't go over budget, $230 million for two miles of new streetcar track works out to a slobber-knocking total of $21,700 per foot.

And that only covers the construction costs. If the current Atlanta Streetcar is any indication, most of the operating costs for the extension will be covered by people who never ride it. The existing 2.7-mile loop through downtown Atlanta gets about 158,000 riders per year. Even if all of them pay the $1 per ride fare—and there is ample evidence that many do not—that wouldn't come close to covering the system's $5 million annual operating cost.

City officials say the extension—which will connect the streetcar to a nearby series of walking and biking trails in the middle of Atlanta—will increase ridership. But that shouldn't be a sufficient justification for dumping another $230 million into a project that has plainly failed.

As Reason's Zach Weissmuller detailed in a documentary last year, the Atlanta Streetcar is comically out of date. It moves at 5 miles per hour and stops every quarter mile, making it no faster than the horse-drawn railways that crisscrossed cities in the 19th century.

And that's when it runs at all. "It's often stuck in traffic. Ridership has been anemic," reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "In November, MARTA took the streetcar vehicles out of service because of safety concerns, though it began restoring rail service along the route last month."

With a plethora of cheaper, faster, better transportation alternatives now available, it's no wonder that so few people are choosing to ride the Atlanta Streetcar. Dumping another $230 million into a pointless extension of a useless service won't change that.