By Clair Muller
Much has been written about the July 31 vote for the transportation referendum. Will our 10 counties vote for the project list that our metro Regional Roundtable devised? Will it help that the project list was agreed to with the help of citizens and transportation planners from existing, vetted transportation proposals? Will we finally begin to think of ourselves as a region, when it matters?
The key issue in this referendum is whether we will put in place the means to build the necessary infrastructure the region needs for our future economic success and quality of life. I believe it is crucial that we not only pass a region-wide plan but also that we validate the concept of regional cooperation and teamwork for major initiatives that can really only be addressed at this level—regionally—and by this means—cooperatively.
Voting on a regional basis moves us forward towards regional management for transportation. It also builds the pathway for control and accountability. Transportation is, by definition, a larger issue that cannot be effectively managed at a local level. Almost all core transportation crosses governmental boundaries, and almost two-thirds—63%—of metro area citizens travel outside their home counties for work. In addition, our regional infrastructure supports the transport of supplies and goods throughout the Southeast. Increased transportation access improves the economy of our entire region. I believe that establishing a regional funding and control model for all of Georgia for is a great step forward to ensuring that we meet our current and future needs.
Regional cooperation is crucial for sustainable growth. We need a solution that addresses both our current traffic crisis and anticipates future growth and the need for transportation choices. We have a wide range of diverse needs in the metro region. We need to provide options for all citizens, and to bring the metro area back into the game regarding economic development—attracting jobs and companies whose employees are accustomed to transportation options. Young residents are demanding choice in modes of transportation, or leaving the Atlanta area for cities that offer them. Atlanta is currently a magnet for retirees who seek a warm climate and proximity to children/grandchildren. By 2015, it is projected that 90% of our growing older population will live in neighborhoods with no access to transit. While certainly not perfect, I believe the referendum’s project list provides a good mix of solutions to address the most pressing needs of residents and communities throughout our 10 counties.
I spent many hours watching our metro Roundtable working hard to put together our project list. They voted unanimously to approve. That process was an exercise in cooperation that was the best I have seen in the past 20 years. Thank you to Sam Olens and Shirley Franklin for getting us started down that cooperation path. Thank you to our Regional Roundtable. I hope that the cooperation can continue. I’m sure the other 11 Regional Roundtables had similar success in putting together a cooperative project list.
While no one likes a new tax, I see the opportunity for voting on a specific project list—developed with citizen oversight, and with accountability a requirement of implementation—as infinitely more desirable than a tax where revenues collected are spent on projects on which we have no input. A sales tax draws revenue from more than the region’s citizens—travel, tourism and convention dollars will also contribute to supporting our transportation systems. It provides the means for our interconnected region to, first, get needed funding and, second, make the difficult trade-offs that are required when there so many diverse needs to represent. The referendum is the best opportunity to provide citizen control over our transportation future.
I’m cheering for approval of the transportation vote in the metro region—and in all 12 regions of Georgia—and hoping for continued dialog among the 12. The region’s, and Georgia’s, future requires that we work together to create infrastructure—and connectivity—that serves us all.