In its finalized annual spending bills, Congress has included funding that will help the massively ambitious effort to create a highway-capping park in Midtown reach key goals this year, according to project officials.
The omnibus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on Dec. 29 includes $3.2 million for the Midtown Connector—enough to allow project leaders to complete a 30-percent design and engineering package in 2023, a process that’s taken several years.
The funding generates “incredible momentum” for the project and will competitively position it to vie for federal construction grants within the next year, officials announced this week.
U.S. Congresswoman Nikema Williams and U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock had requested almost $6 million in Midtown Connector funding from the House and Senate U.S. Department of Transportation appropriation bills last year. But project leaders with MCP Foundation, a nonprofit partnership, weren’t banking on that full amount to come through.
In prepared statements, both politicians spoke to the project’s potential for weaving Atlanta back together.
Said Warnock: “This funding will help create new mobility options and economic opportunities in the heart of our state’s capital, and I’m going to continue fighting to see this critical infrastructure project come fully to life.” And Williams: “[This project will] reconnect neighborhoods, create jobs, and build critical infrastructure.”
Brief history: The MCP Foundation unveiled the vision in early 2021 for a picturesque, grandiose greenspace larger than Centennial Olympic Park built over the downtown Connector. A series of community meetings attended by more than 4,000 people was later held. About 150 of Atlanta’s government, philanthropic, civic, and corporate movers-and-shakers attended a leadership event for the Midtown Connector project at the College Football Hall of Fame a year ago.
Plans call for a 25-acre park that flows with the curves of the freeway underneath, with a trail weaving across the length of it as a more human-scaled, Midtown-downtown connector. Parts of the serpentine path would be elevated, allowing users to quickly swoop over streets without having to cross them at grade. Also in the plans: playgrounds, a dog park, cafés, a children’s garden, and an amphitheatre for local, regional, and national events.
The federal chip-in, while surely encouraging for highway-capping enthusiasts, could be a drop in the bucket, relatively speaking. Early cost estimates for the Midtown Connector have ranged from $800 million to $1.2 billion.
Encouraging signs do abound, though. Project backers said in September private donors had contributed nearly $100 million to the initiative. Georgia Tech, Midtown Alliance, and the Georgia Department of Transportation have all provided technical support and guidance for the project so far, according to the MCP Foundation. At least one Atlanta corporate titan, Chick-fil-A chairman (and former CEO) Dan Cathy, has advocated for a park to bridge the gap between Midtown and Georgia Tech for several years.
The Midtown Connector is the most ambitious—in terms of sheer scope—of three highway-capping greenspace concepts trying to gain footing across Atlanta right now. It joins downtown’s Stitch proposal and Buckhead’s HUB404 in appointing leadership and obtaining federal funding in an era with increased government focus on infrastructure spending.
At last check, a phased approach that would start construction of the park between North Avenue, next to the original Varsity location, and 5th Street was being evaluated; the goal would be to quickly erect park space in that gap and build toward 10th Street from there, officials told Urbanize Atlanta in September.
We asked a project rep Tuesday if even a ballpark timeline has emerged for when the Midtown Connector could break ground. We’ll update this post should any further information come. (MCP Foundation officials have previously said the project will be shovel-ready, or prepped for construction to begin, roughly in late summer or early fall this year.)
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