By AMY KILEY, WABE
The Atlanta BeltLine just bought the land to finish the Eastside Trail, but what will it take to complete the whole project?
Atlanta BeltLine Inc. President Brian McGowan is optimistic about the undertaking. He’s excited about the latest section to open, the new Westside Trail. It’ll eventually be part of a 22-mile loop around the heart of city, but much of the trail is still under construction.
“It’s our top priority is to close the loop,” McGowan said. He’s only been on the job about a month, but he says he wants to do that within a year. “It may not be paved, but, at least in portions that are not paved, there’ll be a trail where people can at least bike, job or walk on it.”
At this point, you can navigate about half the trail, but the BeltLine doesn’t yet own all the property it needs to connect everything together. McGowan said negotiations for that land are going well. Just this month, it announced the acquisition of the 13 acres in the Northeast Corridor that it needs to finish the Eastside Trail.
But, the overall goal for the BeltLine will be harder. The plan is to put in pathways, parks, affordable housing and a streetcar system – and it’s all supposed to be in place by 2030.
“We feel good about that,” McGowan said.“There’s always challenges because it’s hard to predict the future when it comes to the economy.”
The Great Recession slowed BeltLine development in the past. If the economy takes a dive again, the BeltLine’s funding could too. It gets a lot of its money from property and sales taxes.
The other problem has been affordable housing. Even McGowan admits the BeltLine is way behind its goal to create 5,600 units.
Yet another concern is the streetcar component. It’s supposed to follow the BeltLine’s loop.
“There actually hasn’t been the first foot of track or the first transit facility installed, so they have a long way to go,” said former Atlanta Planning Commissioner Mike Dobbins. He now teaches in Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning.
Dobbins said it’s a waste to spend billions of dollars so people can travel in a circle.
“There’s no obvious ridership potential to support a transit system that doesn’t really carry people to where they need to go.”
But, the BeltLine’s McGowan said the streetcar loop would connect riders to MARTA’s buses and trains. And, he points out the BeltLine is already helping residents leave their cars at home.
This story was provided by WABE.