By King Williams
That’s how you should start 2019, start big, start bold and start ambitious.
On Jan. 11, MARTA CEO Jeff Parker stood before the audience of the 6th annual State of MARTA address announcing that within the next few decades the metro Atlanta area would need to invest $100 billion in new transit & developments to meet future needs by 2045.
While that number is hard to fathom, there are things to consider. By 2050 Atlanta is expected to be the sixth largest metropolitan area in the United States. This 49 percent population increase would put Atlanta behind only New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and Chicago metro areas.
But this isn’t just limited to Atlanta. The United Nations projects that 68 percent of the entire globe’s population will be in cities by 2050. Also, the United States is projected to have a more than 40 percent increase in population by 2050 – reaching nearly 440 million.
Now $100 billion seems like a much more pressing priority for a future that will be reliant on a plethora of mass transit options.
As my colleague Maggie Lee broke it down, this equates to $2.5 billion per year for 40 years. This is compared to other large metros such as Los Angeles, which will be spending $120 billion on transit over 40 years, Seattle at $54 billion over 25 years, and the Washington DC metro area potentially allocating a whopping $500 billion in transit projects over 20 years.
Currently, we’re still chronically underfunded as a region for mass-transit and inter-connected mobility options. Recent initiatives such as More MARTA, the upcoming Gwinnett County MARTA vote on March 19th and the launch of the ATL show potential in laying a foundation for the next phase of regional transit and economic mobility.
Atlanta grew initially because of rail, and rail likely will once again be a tenet in driving the future economic expansion of the state.
Across the country, cities are leading economic change, and nearby locales also are reaping benefits. Research points to the growth of intrastate regions and mega-regions as having a compounding impact on the economic gains taking place. For a real world example, look at Amazon’s HQ2 beauty contest.
In metro Atlanta, we’ve reached the law of diminishing returns when it comes to building more roads and highways.
Our future depends on long-term planning, bold action and smart growth strategies. Strategies such as expanding mass transit, ending parking requirements, road diets, more bike lanes, car-less city cores, ending highway expansion and expanding multi-modal options like e-scooters, to name a few.
I know it’s early, but it was refreshing to see someone in leadership in Atlanta actually talk big and bold. Our regional leadership consistently plays it slow and safe when it comes to new ideas.
But I’m concerned the state’s perpetual interest in building roads in rural Georgia will continue to be a thorn in our path toward progress. Historically, Georgia lawmakers have prioritized road repairs and highway expansion – no longer the best return on transportation investments.
I have no problem with maintaining our state’s highways and roadways, but that perpetuates our dependency on cars and trucks.
It is time for us to strike a much more equitable balance in our transportation investments. A vision of $100 billion for transit over the next 40 years will help us reach greater transportation equity – a move that’s long overdue.
Let’s hope our new governor – Brian Kemp – is listening.
ICYMI, check out below the full State of MARTA 2019 event below…note the camera crops out the projections in the background