The Livable Communities Coalition

Working to improve Atlanta's quality of life through smart growth

Doing business in north metro suburbs demands transit

COBB GALLERIA CENTRE – There’s a new coalition in town willing to talk about the future in metro Atlanta’s northern suburbs.

A coalition of north metro chambers and county departments of transportation  convened a transportation summit Wednesday morning to talk about the potential impact of the Transportation Investment Act.

The issue of jobs was at the front of most people’s minds.

Presenters suggested that if metro Atlanta does not make smart decisions about the area’s transportation investments, metro Atlanta may become a poorer region for it.

“Over the past 50 years Atlanta’s leaders have always chosen the right fork in the road,” Cobb County Department of Transportation Director Faye DiMassimo said.

Brandon Beach, president of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and a member of the board of the Georgia Department of Transportation, added, “This is about jobs, jobs, jobs … and connecting to job centers.

It is time to have transit in the suburbs.”

Right now, metro Atlanta is in the process of identifying projects of regional significance that will help the region add greater mobility through new transportation investments.

The process has been initiated by passage of the Transportation Investment Act in 2010, which provides an opportunity for voters to either approve or reject a one-cent sales tax to generate the required revenue to build new transportation infrastructure.

Last week, after conducting preliminary analysis, Georgia Department of Transportation Planning Director Todd Long released the unconstrained list to the Regional Roundtable, 21 elected officials who will represent the 10-county area in the process and refine the unconstrained list into a final project list.

The Roundtable must submit their final list by Oct. 15. The referendum is currently scheduled for summer 2012.

Metro Atlanta is not the only region looking at building new transportation infrastructure.

In February, Indianapolis approved a regional transportation plan that included an expressed preference to modernize their transit system by adding rail service. A plan for funding has proved more difficult, though, jeopardizing their transit aspirations.

Last month a group of officials from metro Atlanta visited Seattle for the annual LINK trip, which is designed to help metro Atlanta decision-makers explore best practices related to transportation, economic development and governance in other cities. Seattle passed a transit referendum in 2008.

Closer to home, Charlotte has had demonstrated success in building a new light rail system that now offers 9.6 miles of light rail service, closely integrated with their bus system.

The Northern Crescent coalition invited former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrery (R) to talk about his experience in developing and executing the vision for Charlotte’s new light rail system.

The Charlotte/McCrory model also shows that transit is increasingly becoming a bi-partisan issue with McCrory as a Republican leading a traditionally liberal issue.

In fact, McCrory argues that transit is an investment that helps restore some of the values that made the TV shows The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D. so popular. Transit investment is about “long-term quality of life,” where metro areas have vibrant communities that are safe, clean and supportive of a focus on community life.

McCrory also advises that a successful effort in metro Atlanta must overcome some of the regional issues that have stymied cooperation across county or city lines. The process must be built upon a strong vision that goes beyond individual projects; instead, it is a process built upon maintaining and enhancing quality of life.

And, if one looks at the numbers, it becomes clear why there is so much concern about the future in north metro Atlanta.

The most recent census shows that metro Atlanta’s suburbs added one-million new residents since 2000.

The Atlanta Regional Commission forecasts an additional 3 million for all of metro Atlanta by 2040.

The Atlanta Regional Commission also projects that 869,000 new jobs will be created in the core counties of Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett.

Traffic is already bad, but clearly the region is significantly concerned about what all these numbers will mean for creating new jobs, attracting and retaining employers, as well as ensuring access to jobs.

During a panel discussion Cobb Co. commission chairman Tim Lee said that “connectivity is paramount” to the future vitality of the area.

“Transit is the great hope for our region to stay ahead,” Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker (R) said. “I want to see a true regional system.”

Bodker added that the success of the referendum also depends on voters’ ability “to know their lives are going to get better.”

As McCrory indicated earlier in the program, it is critical to show residents what their lives can look like if they commit to transit.

And, if that doesn’t work, then “show them what it will look like if you do nothing.”

The Cobb Chamber of Commerce has made the Northern Crescent Transportation Summit available in a podcast. To follow developments related to the Transportation Investment Act, fan Fair Share for Transit on Facebook.
 

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