The Atlanta BeltLine’s fabled “J” took another step toward becoming a reality Wednesday, as project ally U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff toured the Southside Trail to announce the latest injection of federal construction money.

The Southside Trail is necessary for connecting completed sections of the Westside and Eastside trails. Doing so will create a 10-mile “J” of paved multi-use trails, looping from Washington Park west of downtown around to Piedmont Park and linking dozens of neighborhoods together.

Ossoff was in his native Atlanta to announce another $5 million he’d secured via bipartisan support in Congress to help build out the Southside Trail. President Joe Biden has signed the bill, and funding is in disbursement, on its way to what Ossoff described as “extraordinary infrastructure.”

It marks more than $21 million in federal funding committed to the BeltLine’s southernmost swoop in the past six months. Finishing the Southside Trail’s four remaining segments will take tens of millions of dollars more, however. Funding from the BeltLine’s Special Service District tax passed last year, along with the project’s longstanding Tax Allocation District, will also be used.   

U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff (second from left) tours the recently opened first paved segment of the Southside Trail with BeltLine president and CEO Clyde Higgs (center) Wednesday. Photo by The Sintoses

At a press conference preceding a tour of the Southside Trail’s first paved segment and dusty unbuilt portions, Ossoff called the BeltLine “a key part of metro Atlanta’s future” that’s “vital to the development of connected, thriving communities.” The project has potential to help support “families with a high standard of living and access to education, entrepreneurial opportunities, nutrition, schools, affordable housing, and more,” Ossoff added.

In November, Sens. Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock secured $16.4 million in federal RAISE grant funding to speed construction of the Southside Trail between the Pittsburgh Yards development and Boulevard, at the doorstep of Grant Park and Chosewood Park. Those segments—called 2 and 3, just shy of two miles combined—are expected to cost $40 million alone. They’re in design phases now but are scheduled to be the last built.

Breakdown of existing and forthcoming Southside Trail segments. Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

The better news for fans of paved BeltLine sections is that the Southside Trail’s other two segments—4 and 5, from Boulevard around to existing trail in Ormewood Park—are still expected to be under construction later this year, BeltLine officials said this week. (In January, BeltLine heads said the goal is to finish that section in mid-2023.) 

At Wednesday’s event, BeltLine CEO and president Clyde Higgs told Ossoff and gathered media, nearby residents, and business owners the BeltLine is “reconnecting neighborhoods historically divided and marginalized by infrastructure” while “doubling down on our support of small businesses,” per an agency press release.

The Southside Trail's former train tunnel, a key feature of the corridor. Photo by The Sintoses

To that end, project leaders recently announced a BeltLine Marketplace concept that will aim to incubate Black-owned local businesses with a series of pop-ups housed in shipping containers around the Eastside and Westside trails this year.   

Ossoff has also championed legislation that helped create a program called the BeltLine Business Solutions Office aimed at boosting minority and women-owned businesses around the 22-mile loop. In April, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration awarded a $786,000 grant, as funded by the American Rescue Plan, to establish that office.

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