By Amir Farokhi, Executive Director of GeorgiaForward
Each year, over 35 million people take the Øresund Bridge between Malmo, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark. The toll bridge/tunnel runs five miles and primarily carries residents in cars and trains from Malmo to work in Copenhagen. What is remarkable about the bridge is not that it is an engineering marvel, but that two cities, in two different countries, came together and understood that their region’s economic competitiveness depended on being better connected. They didn’t try to snipe companies from one another or live under the shortsighted belief that their respective futures were not tied to one another. They realized that they were stronger working together than against each other.
Here, however, as the July 31 TSPLOST vote approaches, we do not have a regional mindset. The TSPLOST will ask the Atlanta region to vote on funding, through a one-percent sales tax, 157 transportation projects over the next ten years. The list is not perfect but it represents a rare, triumphant, regional collaboration to address Georgia’s underinvestment in transportation infrastructure.
Yet, we see arguments that the project list doesn’t give a certain county enough of what it wants or that the projects are not going to solve traffic. Aside from the fact that all major cities have traffic and will continue to have traffic, the greater misconception is that everyone gets what they want. It is not possible. Atlanta is not getting everything it wants. Neither is Kennesaw or Fayetteville. What matters is that the region gets what it needs. Even though you may not use all 157 transportation projects, the projects are likely to make the region more economically competitive through new jobs, higher property values, and better connectivity. Meanwhile, Charlotte, Houston, Denver and others are investing in transportation infrastructure, from transit to roads.
Former Chicago Mayor Bill Daley was asked why he spent so much time and money on the center city. He responded that his father said that it doesn’t matter how good an apple is, if the apple’s core is bad, nobody wants the apple. Metro Atlanta is one big apple (err, peach). When Cobb County does well, it is good for Clayton County too; if intown Atlanta is vibrant and livable, the exburbs are a viable real estate market.
Fundamentally, across the world, people are moving to cities. 49% of the world’s population lived in cities in 2005. By 2030, 60% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities. The cities that flourish will be those that invest in their people and infrastructure.
We do not have a monopoly on being a “good place to do business.” We are not the only desirable place to live in the South. We have a diverse community with diverse economic assets and a great airport. To be a place that attracts the best and brightest and sprouts new companies, we also have to invest in our transportation network. Doing that requires rising above our paralyzing number of local governments that alone cannot address big issues like transportation. Our future success requires thinking and acting as a region.
If Malmo and Copenhagen can build a five-mile bridge because they understand their region needs it to be more competitive, surely we should consider investing in projects across our region that make us all stronger, even if we don’t personally use each one. One proposed project is a transit line, less than five miles long, between the MARTA’s Lindbergh Station and Emory/CDC, one of our biggest employment clusters. Will we see the value in these projects for all of us or will we put self-interest over regional needs?
Amir Farokhi is Executive Director of GeorgiaForward. The views expressed here are his own.