One of those cities is just north of Atlanta on Interstate 85. Charlotte, N.C., has already spent $450 million on a 9.5-mile stretch of its light rail system. It's now looking to expand.
A train horn and the beeping sounds of railroad crossings have become a popular interruption for traffic in downtown Charlotte. The city's light rail system is nicknamed the LYNX. In just over two years, city officials said it has carried 12.5 million people from the suburbs to the city's core.
"When we used the federal transit administration's projections for how this line would perform, we were expecting 9,100 riders a day by 2010," said Peter Zeiler of Charlotte's Economic Development Department. "We're now at about 14,000 to 15,000 riders per day."
Passengers said it has transformed the city.
"With the LYNX system, I'm in uptown in less than two minutes," said Jason Shrader. "It's only $1.50. It's really easy."
"A lot of people ride for commuter purposes, but when you have the large events, like the NCAA basketball tournament, the train is really packed," said Shelton Starks.
Atlanta Beltline officials have visited Charlotte and said its light rail system could be the model for the Beltline. The Atlanta Beltline is using existing abandoned rail lines on a 22-mile loop around Atlanta. It will create and connect neighborhoods, shops, restaurants and parks.
"(Charlotte's) light rail system, for example, is something we can look at as we contemplate making the technology decision for our own Beltline here," said Catherine Ross, who is the director of Atlanta's Center for Quality Growth.
In Charlotte, several new buildings have popped up along the tracks of the LYNX. The manager in one new apartment building told Channel 2 Action News reporter John Bachman that they are ahead of schedule renting out the units. He said renters tell him the train is the main attraction.
"Property values have absolutely sky-rocketed around here," said Zeiler. "What used to be old, vacant industrial land selling for a few bucks a foot is now going for up to $150 bucks a foot."
With increased property values comes increased tax revenues. Charlotte officials said those revenues will pay for the city's investment in the train in just 10 to 15 years. They also want to expand the system.
"We want to build upon the success we've had on the south end of the city. We're looking for a federal grant for expansion of the system to the north end," said Charlotte Area Transit CEO Carolyn Flowers.
Charlotte officials plan to apply for federal transportation money to help with any expansion. Atlanta Beltline officials said they'll be competing with Charlotte for the same money.
Ross said there is reason for concern. "I've looked a lot at Charlotte and they worry me a little bit...the competitor in me," said Ross.