MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott can hardly contain her excitement.
After decades “toiling in the vineyards,” she and other rail advocates finally have friends in the White House.
With just a couple of days notice, Scott got a call from a friend at the Federal Transit Administration asking whether she could come up to Washington D.C. for the administration’s unvieling of its high speed rail strategy.
So early on Thursday morning, Scott found herself at the old Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington. After going through three different security screenings, she joined about 80 other transit advocates in a medium-sized room where they heard from the transportation officials the outline of the high speed rail plan.
And then Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama enter the room where they proceed to give a passionate plea to develop our nation’s rail infrastructure.
“For everybody, it was like a dream come true. It was almost like fairy dust was in the room — to finally have an administration that really gets it,” Scott said. “The president has a true commitment to make a down payment on the future toward a really robust rail system in the United States.”
Scott, who is this year’s chair of the American Public Transportation Association, was particularly impressed with how Obama talked about the relationships between transit, the economy, land-use, livable urban centers and energy consumption.
The experience was “wonderful,” said Scott, adding that it gave her “goosebumps.”
The D.C. trip certainly was a welcome change from all the dysfunctional politics (my comment, not hers) that took place during the past session of the Georgia legislature. Once again, the legislature provided no support for transit or rail.
But here’s the catch. To participate in Obama’s high speed rail initiative, states need to demonstrate that they have a well-thought out rail plan. Compared to other states, Georgia is in slow motion.
“For our corridor, North Carolina has been the one that’s been kicking butt,” Scott said. “We are so far behind.”
Georgia’s one strength is metro Atlanta, the economic capital of the Southeast and a critical stop in the North Carolina to Alabama corridor. An enlightened state government immediately would seize the opportunity to fully develop its rail strategy.
“I have confidence that the decisions we make today as a region are going to decide where we will be positioned 20 years from now,” Scott said. “I think we have lost our way. I don’t think the Atlanta region wants to be a ‘has been.’ We’ve got to figure out how we can move forward.”
Right now, Georgia’s transportation bureaucracies are in a total state of disarray. A poorly thought-out governance proposal is only adding to the confusion of who’s in charge and who’s in control.
And this is in a state that was only marginally committed to having rail as part of its transportation offerings.
Clearly, we can do better. Through the Atlanta Regional Transit Implementation Board, MARTA and other metro agencies are working hard on how to build out our passenger rail infrastructure.
Scott said she is totally willing to work with the region and the state on helping Georgia create a first-rate rail strategy so it can become an active player in high speed rail.
“We’ve just got to do it,” Scott said. “There are too many intelligent people who appreciate that you are either in the game or you are out of it. We’ve got to step up our game and our visibility.”
As someone who has been preaching for rail transportation for decades, it’s inspiring to see a federal administration that understands all the advantages in moving people and goods on trains.
So now it’s up to leaders in Georgia — from the business community, state transportation leaders and elected officials from metro Atlanta and throughout the state — to wake up.
“The decisions we make in the next five years will decide where Atlanta will be for generations to come,” Scott said.
Let’s not blow it.