Metro Chamber’s Sam Williams makes an urgent plea to state leaders for new transportation funding

guest_photo41Guest Column by SAM WILLIAMS,
President of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce

Georgia desperately needs a voter-approved transportation sales tax to deal with congestion in metro Atlanta and provide more resources around the state.

That is the answer to a call that has both been set forth in many transportation reports and by frustrated motorists in the metro area.

However, we first need the legislature to give us the tools we need to take action against congestion.

Right now the General Assembly is considering legislation that would give voters a chance to approve funding for better roads, highways and transit. Log onto and click the “Take Action on Traffic” button to let your lawmakers know you support transportation funding.

The House passed a bill for a statewide sales tax referendum along with a list of projects to be funded.

The Senate passed a bill for metro Atlanta and counties in other parts of the state to come together and pick their own projects for regional or multi-county referenda.

The big question is which version has the best chance of ultimately gaining voter approval? This is the debate our lawmakers need to resolve quickly.

Although the need to act is urgent, this issue is not new.

In December of 1998, a group of business, government, and academic leaders came together to tackle the region’s traffic problems in an effort called the Metro Atlanta Transportation Initiative (MATI).

It was chaired by Pete Correll; and McKinsey & Co. offered pro-bono consulting services to staff the initiative. The group made seven recommendations to resolve the traffic congestion that already was threatening metro Atlanta’s growth and prosperity.

One of the MATI Board solutions from 10 years ago: “Secure adequate and flexible funding for transportation needs.” And they made clear the consequences of doing nothing: “Jobs will leave the region, air quality will worsen,” and “daily family life will suffer.”

In the years that have passed, other metro areas have take meaningful action to deal with their congestion issues. Cities that compete with Atlanta for jobs have successfully raised money for roads, highways and transit by putting a list of transportation projects and a time-limited sales tax to fund them on the ballot for voters to approve.

San Diego implemented a transportation sales tax to fund a list of projects. So did Dallas, Phoenix, and Charlotte. Chicago has a multi-county transportation sales tax along with Denver, Salt Lake and Seattle. Citizens in those metro regions are now riding and driving on what used to be plans and concepts.

The regional options implemented by these areas allows for flexibility, local input and a tangible return on investment for taxpayers. Add in a voter approval requirement and identify an accountable body for project implementation, and you have a winning program that can deliver real results.

And those results come not only in the forms of improved quality of life and better air quality, but jobs and economic prosperity as well.

A recent study commissioned by Gov. Sonny Perdue, also using McKinsey and Co., showed that if Georgia doesn’t take action to provide more mobility in the state, we will lose out on about 320,000 jobs and $500 billion dollars in economic benefit.

The case for transportation investment has been made, and now it’s time to act. Get in touch with your legislator and ask them to pass transportation funding bill this session.

4 replies
  1. Frank Mann says:

    We are in a highly competitive environment; while other metro areas have been addressing their their congestion issues with action we are still fighting for the right. If we don’t act now, our quality of life will be downgraded which will have a devastating impact on future expansion into our region.Report

  2. Richard E. Hodges says:

    Atlanta and its surrounding communities are fortunate in having a Metro Chamber with visionary, yet pragmatic, leadership, epitomized by Sam Williams. Right under our noses, we are watching Georgia’s political leadership apparently on course once again to fail to deal responsibly with transportation challenges and opportunities that have been obvious for years to a handful of knowledgeable observers–concerned average citizens, several local government leaders and planners, as well as a few perceptive news reporters, editors and columnists. It’s heartening to see courageous business leaders stand up and be counted publicly with thoughtful opinions regarding tough political issues that affect the future of our area.Report

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