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Grand Central Terminal for Atlanta?

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February 14, 2001 A plan to build a major passenger terminal in downtown Atlanta might soon boast new life, in the form of an $80 million-plus jump start, state officials said at Transportation Board meetings, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The idea has reeled in big supporters, but raised questions too -- including whether it's legal.

Congress long ago earmarked
$87 million to partially fund a commuter rail line through Lovejoy, but Georgia
has spent little of it, as state and local officials struggled to find funds to
pay the remaining cost. Now Congress is threatening to revoke unused earmarks,
so state Department of Transportation board members and staff are looking to
see whether they can spend the federal money on the terminal where the rail
line was supposed to end, in the "gulch" area connecting to MARTA’s Five Points

The station would outclass
any currently existing in Georgia. Where MARTA stations handle just subway
trains, the terminal could be fitted to handle everything from high-speed rail
to Amtrak to commuter rail. It would also receive commuter and intercity buses,
such as Greyhound. .

"I’m in favor of
moving ahead with it," state Transportation Board Chairman Bill Kuhlke
said. While there were other possible options, he said, "If you do
anything, at some point you’re going to have to have a multimodal station. So
why not concentrate on something that we’re going to have to have anyway?"

Gerald Ross, the state
Department of Transportation’s chief engineer and deputy commissioner, told
board members, "That’s an opportunity we think we could use the money
on." In an interview later, he cautioned that the idea was in early
stages, that it was not the only possibility, and most significantly, that DOT
had not yet verified that the language in the earmarks would allow the state to
concentrate the money on a terminal.

In the meantime, DOT’s
director of intermodal programs, Erik Steavens, is in talks with city leaders
and other agencies to determine what types of facilities the station would
provide and how much space would be needed.

There would be opposition
from Eldrin Bell, who chairs the Clayton County Commission, where the rail line
is supposed to run. "I believe it would have a profound negative
impact" to move the money, he said.

The project could address
the fundamental problem that has dogged the commuter rail line proposal: Mass
transit ticket sales rarely pay the full cost of operating the system on an
ongoing basis. One idea is to gain a revenue stream for the rail lines by
building and renting out office space above the terminal. DOT, MARTA and other
agencies could move into that space, and form a reliable renter base even in a
shaky real estate market.

If the federal government
were to build out the Lovejoy train line itself as well as the intercity rail
network now backed by the Obama administration, Atlanta would be ready with its
central station.

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