Metro Atlanta leaders — in a state of recalibration — seek a way forward

By Maria Saporta

When regional Atlanta leaders traveled to the Washington, D.C. metro area for the 2012 LINK trip, it was hard to contain their excitement and anticipation.

In just a few short months, the Atlanta region would face its moment of truth of whether it would invest in a transportation system that would lead to the transit oriented development they were witnessing in downtown Washington, D.C. and the booming suburb of Arlington, Va.

Atlanta's Lisa Borders greets Houston Mayor Annise Parker during the first night of LINK trip (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Atlanta’s Lisa Borders greets Houston Mayor Annise Parker during the first night of LINK trip (Photo by Maria Saporta)

But if the regional transportation sales tax were to be defeated, Metro Atlanta Chamber President Sam Williams said at the time: “We don’t need to go on another LINK trip. We should just go to a funeral.”

A year later, Atlanta’s regional leaders went to the Greater Houston area where they witnessed a region that was growing faster than the rest of the nation, often topping economic development rankings among metro areas. They also saw a region where voters had consistently voted to invest in their transportation and quality of life infrastructure.

While it would be an over-exaggeration  to say that it felt as though metro Atlanta leaders were attending their own funeral, it would be fair to say that if felt as though all the energy and enthusiasm of 2012 had been deflated.

So is the Atlanta region adrift with no direction, leadership or consensus in sight?

Jim Rhoden and David Hankerson of Cobb County talk to Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker (Photo: Atlanta Regional Commission)

Jim Rhoden and David Hankerson of Cobb County talk to Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker (Photo: Atlanta Regional Commission)

Mike Bodker, mayor of Johns Creek, answered no. The Atlanta region is undergoing a period of “recalibration,” he said. And such recalibration can be a healthy process.

Armchair critics like to question why 110 metro leaders even go visit different cities every year to see how other communities are investing in their transit systems, their cultural institutions, their parks and trails, and working on regional alliances when it seems as though the Atlanta region keeps treading water.

But each LINK trip gives Atlanta leaders an opportunity to look in the mirror and take stock of where we are and where we want to go.

DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis with Gwinnett County Chair Charlotte Nash (Photo: Maria Saporta)

DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis with Gwinnett County Chair Charlotte Nash (Photo: Maria Saporta)

Most importantly, the LINK trips provide a safe place where leaders from around the region can get to know each other, exchange ideas and build respectful relationships and genuine friendships. Needless to say, no real progress can occur in this region if those relationships don’t exist.

The Houston trip seemed especially painful because the largest city in Texas is successful in several sectors that metro Atlanta is targeting, such as  the biomedical and health care industry as well as transportation and logistics. And, not unlike Atlanta, it is an economy that has been built on the industry of growth.

Yet Houston kept growing while Atlanta’s growth slowed — creating a hardship on all our growth-related businesses, such as construction and banking.

Gwinnett's Nick Masino talks to MARTA's Keith Parker and ARC's Doug Hooker (Photo: Maria Saporta)

Gwinnett’s Nick Masino talks to MARTA’s Keith Parker and ARC’s Doug Hooker (Photo: Maria Saporta)

After hearing Houston economic development leaders, Tedra Cheatham, executive director of the Clean Air Campaign, said they all seemed to have swagger while Atlanta has seemed to have lost its swagger.

Needless to say, it is extremely uncomfortable for metro Atlanta leaders to talk about not being at the top of their game.

Houston's downtown — lots of shiny buildings and parking garages but not much street life (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Houston’s downtown — lots of shiny buildings and parking garages but not much street life (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Even though the defeat of the regional transportation sales tax is now almost a year old, there’s little community appetite to really do a deep dive to explore why it failed and what lessons we could learn from that experience so we could succeed the next time around.

I would venture to say that we really can’t move forward until we really have an honest and open community conversation about what happened and how we can avoid failure in the future. It’s like letting an infected wound fester without being treated.

That said, I am not among the ones who has given up on Atlanta. Quite the contrary.

In Houston, I saw a region that was driven by a love of money and wealth. The motivator for implementing quality of life initiatives was a realization that it could no longer keep attracting companies on the promise of just making money. They would have to dress up the area with parks, trails, public art, theaters, museums and sports facilities.

Artistic metal replicas of Victorian houses that used to stand in downtown Houston now adorn public space near Toyota Arena (Photo: Maria Saporta)

Artistic metal replicas of Victorian houses that used to stand in downtown Houston now adorn public space near Toyota Arena (Photo: Maria Saporta)

Houston is fortunate to have a high concentration of millionaires who have been willing to invest their fortunes in the community, which certainly has made it a better place to live and work.

But walking around downtown, parking lots and garages taken much of the life from the city streets. And an extensive network — seven miles — of underground pedestrian tunnels has made the sidewalks relatively void of people.

Downtown Houston has seven miles of underground pedestrian tunnels so people don't have to walk outside (Photo: Maria Saporta)

Downtown Houston has seven miles of underground pedestrian tunnels so people don’t have to walk outside (Photo: Maria Saporta)

In talking to people who have lived in or traveled to Houston extensively, I told them that it felt as though Houston had no soul. They did not disagree.

That is where Atlanta can and should excel — if we have the wisdom to recognize our innate advantage.

On the Sunday following our return from Houston on Saturday, President Barack Obama was the commencement speaker at Atlanta’s historic Morehouse College. The statue of Benjamin E. Mays, who was president of Morehouse and a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. when he was a student, looked over the crowd. But most importantly, the lessons of nonviolence, equal opportunity and justice blossomed on the Morehouse campus and in Atlanta.

The next day at a Buckhead hotel, CARE USA, the World Affairs Council of Atlanta and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. held the second annual Global Health Summit in Atlanta. This year, they were tackling world hunger.

When Atlanta is at its best is when it is that City Too Busy To Hate, that city busy finding ways to make the world a better place for every one, and when it has realized that there’s more to business than just making money.

Preservation Houston's Jim Parsons (right) gives Atlanta group a downtown walking tour. GSU President Mark Becker (center) listens attentively (Photo: Maria Saporta)

Preservation Houston’s Jim Parsons (right) gives Atlanta group a downtown walking tour. GSU President Mark Becker (center) listens attentively (Photo: Maria Saporta)

And because our institutions — corporate, academic, government and civic — aspired to the higher goals of humanity, they ended up being rewarded in economic returns.

Take the Civil Rights movement. We can now look back and see how having an enlightened view on integration was a strategic economic policy that set Atlanta on a course of prosperity that lasted for decades. But during the 1960s, the outcome was not nearly as clear. Our leaders took a progressive point of view because it was the right thing to do.

Today, we are at another pivotal moment where we have some of the world’s most influential institutions working on the issues of global health and development. These are natural extensions of Atlanta’s historic leadership in the areas of civil and human rights.

Engraved in stone at key downtown plaza: "As we build our city let us think that we are building forever." Preservation Houston's Parsons tells us that ironically the block used to have historic theaters and a hotel, some replaced by garages (Photo:  Maria Saporta)

Engraved in stone at key downtown plaza: “As we build our city let us think that we are building forever.” Preservation Houston’s Parsons tells us that ironically the block used to have historic theaters and a hotel, some replaced by garages (Photo: Maria Saporta)

Yes, the Atlanta region is in a period of recalibration. There is much work to be done to reinvest in our transportation and our quality of life infrastructure. We have to figure out how to get all our different governments and business organizations to work together for a common purpose. We have to have tangible progress in public education from birth to higher education.

And we have to be willing to openly discuss our shortcomings and failures in a constructive way so we can work toward the future.

But, when all is said and done, Atlanta has something many other communities would love to have. We have a soul.

Here are all the columns and stories on the 2013 Houston LINK trip that have appeared in SaportaReport and the Atlanta Business Chronicle (in chronological order):

Atlanta LINK delegation headed to Houston for economic success tips

Houston Mayor Annise Parker tells Atlanta LINK delegation that her city makes the impossible happen 

As Houston’s population becomes more diverse, the region’s education and income problems intensify

Greater Houston may be bigger than the Atlanta region; but is it better?

Regional Atlanta leaders on 2013 LINK trip find Houston to be humbling

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

21 replies
  1. armss says:

    Maria,
    Would have been good to mention Houston’s leadership position in the energy industry as a reason it is doing so well now and as the primary reason that it did not suffer as much as many communities during the downturn. Also, from a non natives perspective, I’m not sure Houston is any worse off than Atalanta in the “Soul” department.Report

    Reply
    • SteveBrown says:

      armss So right, there are a lot of key differences between Houston and Atlanta that do not make for a fair comparison.  Personally, I do not want to be a “Houston” or a “Washington D.C.” and prefer to focus on making a better Atlanta.Report

      Reply
    • mariasaporta says:

      armss You’re right, Houston’s economic strength is largely due to its energy sector (I did mention that in other stories). In our limited time there, it seemed as though much of that is based on fossil fuels and there is little sensitivity to issues of our carbon footprint, green energy and alternative energy sources. 
      As for the “soul”  department, I am not aware of great international leaders who have emerged from Houston with voices that have changed the world. In addition to all the Civil Rights leaders like MLK, Andy Young, John Lewis, Julian Bond, Benjamin Mays, Maynard Jackson (too many to mention), there have been other leaders such as Ted Turner, Ivan Allen, Margaret Mitchell, Sam Nunn, Jim Laney, Robert Woodruff, Bill Foege — again too many to mention. Few cities can claim to have been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners. Atlanta can.Report

      Reply
  2. SteveBrown says:

    Thank you, Maria, for coming out and saying it, “… we have to be willing to openly discuss our shortcomings and failures in a constructive way so we can work toward the future.” The Transportation Investment Act was the first real debate our region has had on transportation in 20 years.  
    We have some serious problems.  Our system itself, creating regions and working within congressional districts, it antiquated and in dire need  of significant change.  
    Like Maria, I am far from giving up on Atlanta.  However, if we cannot get out rut of the avoiding debate and hustling deals in the back channels, then we will remain buried
    beneath the rubble of constituent distrust.
    The Atlanta Regional Commission will be having the annual retreat the second week in June.  Let’s see what happens.Report

    Reply
  3. Native Atlanta Boy says:

    I
    think that the defeat of the T-SPOLSH was great for Atlanta and showed how the
    projects involved with that tax hike can and are getting done in spite of the
    defeat.  Since the defeat of the tax hike and in less than a year
    communities, businesses and leaders have come together to 1) build the Beltway;
    2) make forward progress in funding the I-285/GA 400 interchange; 3) fund major
    road improvements around the airport and other projects.  Ending the
    “open checkbook” policies that ruled the ways is
    hopefully in the past and now true accountability is in place. 
    Atlanta, in spite of its poor leadership throughout the past 25+ years still
    thrives and will because of its soul.  Too bad we cannot elect truly
    honest and ethical leaders who are interested in doing the right thing rather
    than being in it for themselves.Report

    Reply
    • ScottNAtlanta says:

      Native Atlanta Boy If the T-SPLOST had passed, the beltway would have knocked 5 years off construction, They wouldn’t have to “look” for funding for the GA 400 interchange…in fact they would be well on their way towards construction.  The reason it failed is more because of the way the region was put together.  The needs of Fayette Co. have very little in common with those of DeKalb.  If it had been Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Clayton, Gwinnette …it might have had more of a chance of passing.  Also, the business community was extremely flat footed in getting their message out, while the Tea Party machine proved very effective (if not very truthful).  In this information age, unfortunately, the message that gets out first (whether truthful or not) seems to stick…and the vote took place in one of the most dishonest times I can recall (locally and nationally).  When you have former flight attendants pushing policy…thats what you getReport

      Reply
      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        It was way more than the geographical setup of the 10-county Atlanta region that caused the T-SPLOST to fail as the T-SPLOST transportation funding concept failed in 9 of the 12 regions across the state where it came up for a vote.
        What really truly caused the T-SPLOST to fail was that it was terrible transportation policy as it was yet another in a long line of horrific transportation policy decisions made by the State of Georgia over the past 2 decades or so. 
        If expediting the construction of the Atlanta Beltline by 5 years was the intent or priority of the referendum, then the T-SPLOST should have only been a citywide referendum within the corporate limits of the City of Atlanta (where the T-SPLOST had 59% support, the ONLY place in the 10-county Atlanta region where the T-SPLOST had positive support) and not a regional referendum that lumped important projects like the I-285/GA 400 interchange reconstruction in with loads of ill-defined projects, political giveaways and poorly thought-out goodies for well-connected special interests.
        From the airport runway lights at McCollum Field in Cobb County, to the nearly $1 billion light rail line that was changed to “fixed guideway premium bus service” that was mostly in Fulton County but being paid for by residents of Cobb County, to the funding of the construction of the Sugarloaf Parkway Extension in the right-of-way of the cancelled Northern Arc in Gwinnett County that caused people to think that T-SPLOST money was going be used to resurrect the highly-controversial Northern Arc and inspired staunch opposition from anti-road construction Intown transit advocates such as the NAACP and the Sierra Club, to the $600 million plus that would be given to prop-up a severely-declining and failing MARTA status quo, to the total lack of a plan to fund regional commuter rail service, the T-SPLOST referendum approach to transportation planning was just simply a horrific piece of transportation policy that collapsed under the sheer massive weight of its own B.S.
        As for the I-285/GA 400 interchange reconstruction that the state is trying to “find” funding for…
        When the Georgia 400 Extension was still in the planning stages 25 years ago before even one shovel of dirt had been turned on the project, the State of Georgia knew that the two major freeway interchanges at both ends of the project (the I-85/GA 400 interchange at the south end and the I-285/GA 400 interchange at the north end) were severely-flawed and would need additional construction.
        But the state still promised to take the tolls off the road without agreeing to pay for the much-needed additional construction at those two severely-flawed interchanges in the name of political expediency so that their road construction and land spectulation buddies could get paid as soon as possible.
        Just as the state clumsily extended the Georgia 400 tolls to pay for the construction of the missing freeway ramps at I-85 and GA 400, the state could have also used the tolls that it was collecting on GA 400 to pay for the critically-needed reconstruction of the deadly interchange at I-285 & GA 400, an interchange reconstruction project that like the I-85/GA 400 interchange, should have been part of the original construction of the GA 400 Extension.
        The state never needed a regional T-SPLOST referendum or contributions from area businesses to pay for the reconstruction of the I-285/GA 400 interchange, but could have used the tolls that it collected on the road (the same tolls it used to pay for the initial construction of the road) to pay for the interchange (because that’s what the tolls are for: to pay for the construction and the continuing maintenance of a road).
        Or better yet, instead of building the road through one of the metro area’s most-affluent and highly-desired neighborhoods, the State of Georgia could have reduced automobile overuse and encouraged more transit use by not building the road and just simply building an underground rail transit line between Buckhead and the I-285 Top End Perimeter.
        Or if the state needed the road to be built that badly, the state could have built the entire Georgia 400 Extension underground and spared one of its most-desired neighborhoods of condemnation.
        But let’s not kid ourselves.  The Georgia 400 Extension was NOT about “traffic relief”.  The Georgia 400 Extension (and the original OTP segment of GA 400 that was built outside of I-285 roughly between 1968 and 1981) was about land spectulation by opening up the area north of Atlanta for extensive development in a booming economy with a direct freeway link to Downtown Atlanta and the Airport that would generate traffic to the area.Report

        Reply
        • ScottNAtlanta says:

          The Last Democrat in Georgia 
          If you remove the outlying counties it still failed by 41%-59% which is 4% closer.  My point was that it could have been sold in a better way if it was a smaller region and would have had less of a pushback from the outer counties which in turn influenced messaging in Cobb…which was what caused it to fail.  I agree it was pretty much the state shirking its responsibility in favor of ideological purity.  The money for the 400/85 ramps was already available before the tolls came off GA 400 (roughly 45 million in the bank…so to speak) so that was already paid for.  The state was stupid for not taking into account the massive growth this would spur.  Trust me when I tell you the amount of times I cursed whoever designed that road without completing the 85 exit ramps when it would take 20mins to get from the 400 Sidney Marcus exit to turn right on to Cheshire Bridge Rd…something I gladly dont have to do a rush hour anymore.  I am of the opinion that all those that screamed about the tolls coming down should be forced to just deal with it as is…you get what you pay for and the sooner some of these people learn that lesson the better we will all be…there aint no free lunch…even if you live in CobbReport

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          Those are all excellent points, particularly about the state’s horrific mismanagement of GA 400 over the years.
          But when you have obvious severely-pressing transportation needs, many of which needed to be addressed over two decades ago (like the implementation of commuter rail service throughout North Georgia and the reconstruction of the I-285/GA 400 interchange, and so on, and so on), and increasingly severe traffic congestion, you don’t put those severely-pressing needs up for a vote as if those transportation infrastructure needs are completely optional and the region can function just fine without those needs being addressed.
          For needs that are that critically important you find the money for those severely-pressing transportation needs and you fund them, even if it means creating a new revenue stream to do so, you fund them. 
          No childish political games (“Well it’s not our fault that Metro Atlantans voted against investing in their future, blah, blah, blah…”), and no excuses (“Well the gas tax just doesn’t bring in enough money, so we’ll have to wait until the year 2031 to do this blah, blah, blah…”), if you are a political leader you do the job that the voters elected YOU to do and you do the job that the Constitution of the State of Georgia mandates that YOU do.
          And it wasn’t necessarily just pushback in the outer counties that influenced messaging and caused Cobb residents to vote against the T-SPLOST in heavy numbers.
          It was the failure of the T-SPLOST to even address the most-pressing transportation issue in Cobb County, which is the daily severe traffic congestion on Interstate 75 (and US Highway 41/Cobb Parkway) between I-285 and Acworth with either transit (a regional commuter rail corridor between Acworth and the I-285 Perimeter with lines that continue onto the Perimeter Center area and Downtown Atlanta) or road improvements (separated-grade intersections on US 41, improvements on I-75) or both transit and road improvements.
          And the T-SPLOST wasn’t sold in a better way because it couldn’t be sold in a better way.
          That’s because the T-SPLOST was just simply an unsellable “piece” of transportation policy that the voters saw right through.
          Also, despite the pressing need at the 285/400 interchange, I can’t blame the public for wanting the state to keep its promise to take the tolls off of GA 400 when the bonds that were used to pay for the construction of the road were paid off.
          That’s because the state should have never made the promise to take the tolls of the road when the bonds were paid off because, as you mentioned, the state knew that the area that GA 400 “served” would likely experience explosive growth (because that’s why the state built the road) and that road funding would be in even shorter supply when the bonds were paid off.
          The state should have been straight with the people and told them that the tolls were needed to pay for both the construction and continuing maintenance of the road and that the tolls would stay on the road for the life of the road because there wasn’t enough money in the state road budget to pay for the road otherwise without tolls.
          The State of Georgia knew full well that the area would grow explosively after opening that road but did not care because GA 400 (both the original OTP section and the ITP extension) was not a project to relieve traffic.
          GA 400 was really a project to INCREASE and generate traffic to Buckhead and the Northern suburbs for the benefit of the land spectulators and real estate developers who owned land in those areas, so what did the state care if the road was missing some key ramps and had some major (deadly) design flaws at a key junction?  Because the intent of the road was to generate traffic, anyway.Report

          Reply
  4. David McMaster says:

    I don’t know how you want to define soul, but I can tell you from what I’ve witnessed in Houston through tragedies like Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 or Hurricane Ike in 2008, the response for neighboring Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the annual declaration of community charity for youth and education through the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for multiple decades, Houston is a city with tremendous heart – way bigger than any other place I’ve lived or visited.  We take care of our own and then some.  And that “swagger” you observed can also be described as defiance because Houstonian’s of all economic levels refuse to accept that we have any problem we won’t solve sooner rather than later.  We man up and work until the job is done.  You may not see as much non-business activity in our central business district as in some cities, but that is in part because we are made up of dozens of activity centers, many larger than most cities, and hundreds of communities that nonetheless come together in a pinch as Houston.  As far as leaders, we have our share of folks to be immensely proud of.  Jesse Jones helped America and the world out of the Great Depression at the helm of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.  Barbara Jordan, a civil rights leader was the first southern black female elected to the US House of Representatives.  James Baker, Dan Rather, George H.W. Bush, George Foreman, Lyle Lovett, Walter Cronkite — hundreds of people who have been leaders in government, community, journalism, business, sports, entertainment and humanity.  And Houston’s breadth and depth of diversity is tough to rival in the south.
    I only wish it was true that we voted as a community to invest properly in transportation and livability with greater regularity.  But that problem too will pass because Houstonians believe in themselves and they believe in Houston – with hearts as big as the state we live in.Report

    Reply
  5. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    It’s good that the Atlanta LINK Delegation learned something good from their trip to Houston.
    Although, the thing that I hope that they learned the most was not to plot another regionwide referendum (or series of regional referendums).
    It should be obvious that what might work for a region like Houston, as far as state government delegating its constitutionally-appointed duties of funding the state’s transportation infrastructure needs out to the voters in the form of a series of regional referendums full of giveaways of public money to special interest groups, may not work for a region like Atlanta and a state like Georgia.
    The Atlanta region is a metro region with its own unique set of logistical needs and local/regional politics.
    Trying to do in Atlanta what works in regions like Houston, Denver, Dallas, Seattle or Portland is a misguided way to attempt to go about executing transportation policy because Atlanta has political, cultural and social structure that is dramatically different from any of those Western regions where the regional referendum approach may work.
    If anything, the Atlanta region is far closer in geographical makeup to the large multi-county, multi-state metro regions of the Northeastern quadrant of the U.S. than it is to any of the aforementioned metro regions of the Western U.S. where the regional referendum approach to transportation funding has been applied with great success.
    (Northeastern U.S. quadrant large metro regions like the 3-state Chicago region, the 3-state Philadelphia region, the 3-state Boston region, the 3-state (and 1 federal district) D.C. region, and the 4-state New York City region, where the respective multiple state governments of those regions play an outsized role in funding the upkeep of the transportation infrastructure of those large metro regions because those state governments have to…Because the notorious traffic jams of those heavily-populated metro regions don’t stop just because the state government may stop funding the roads, trains and buses.)
    With the Greater Atlanta region spanning up to 30 counties throughout North Georgia (compared to the other aforementioned Western metro regions each of which may not even have a third of the number of county governments that Atlanta has), the State of Georgia absolutely has to take the lead when it comes to enacting transportation policy in a Greater Atlanta region which spans multiple parts of the state.
    Just as Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown has talked about in the past at the junction of I-85 and Georgia 74 in South Fulton County, a junction of two STATE-MAINTAINED highways that has needed improvements for more than TWO DECADES, or as “Native Atlanta Boy” talks about below at the junction of I-285 & GA 400, another junction of two STATE-MAINTAINED highways that has needed improvements for more than TWO DECADES, the State of Georgia knows very well what this state’s most-critical transportation needs are but just refuses to fund them. 
    Instead of playing childish political games and trying to make funding the needs of the state’s transportation network someone else’s problem (anyone else’s problem but theirs), the State of Georgia absolutely needs to put its “big-boy pants” on, step up to the plate, and provide the leadership that is expected (and needed) of them and fund those critical transportation infrastructure needs.
    Local businesses and county governments should not have to take up “collection plates” to fund critical transportation needs on STATE-OWNED, STATE-MAINTAINED and STATE-CONTROLLED pieces of transportation infrastructure because state government doesn’t want to be bothered with doing its CONSTITUTIONALLY-MANDATED job of funding the transportation infrastructure that IT is responsible for.
    Commissioning convoluted regional referendums full of funding for airport runway towers when the need is for LONG-OVERDUE freeway interchange reconstructions and the LONG-OVERDUE implementation of regionwide passenger rail transit (commuter rail, COMPLETE OVERHAUL and expansion of heavy rail, etc) and then wandering why those convoluted regional referendums fail miserably is no way to manage and execute policy for something as CRITICALLY-IMPORTANT as transportation infrastructure.Report

    Reply
  6. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    {{“A year later, Atlanta’s regional leaders went to the Greater Houston area where they witnessed a region that was growing faster than the rest of the nation, often topping economic development rankings among metro areas. They also saw a region where voters had consistently voted to invest in their transportation and quality of life infrastructure.”}}
    Believe it or not, long before the taxpaying citizens of the Atlanta region and the State of Georgia overwhelmingly voted down the convoluted regional “transportation” referendum approach to transportation funding last year, the citizens of the Atlanta region and the State of Georgia had already voted to invest in their transportation and quality-of-life infrastructure.
    The citizens of the Atlanta region and the State of Georgia actually voted to invest in their transportation and quality-of-life infrastructures when they voted for and elected their political leadership in the State Legislature (State Representatives, State Senators and Governor).
    The citizens of the Atlanta region and the State of Georgia did not elect those state leaders so that as voters they could do the governing jobs for the people they elected.
    The citizens of the Atlanta region and the State of Georgia elected those state leaders to do the job that is delegated to them by the Constitution of the State of Georgia which is to fund the state’s transportation network.
    It is NOT the job of the voters to find funding to rebuild a I-285 & GA 400 interchange that has needed an overhaul for more than 20 years.
    The job of finding funding to rebuild, operate and maintain STATE-CONTROLLED HIGHWAYS is indeed the responsibility of the State of Georgia, my friends.Report

    Reply
  7. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    {{“Yes, the Atlanta region is in a period of recalibration. There is much work to be done to reinvest in our transportation and our quality of life infrastructure. We have to figure out how to get all our different governments and business organizations to work together for a common purpose. We have to have tangible progress in public education from birth to higher education….”}}
    {{“….And we have to be willing to openly discuss our shortcomings and failures in a constructive way so we can work toward the future.”}}
    I don’t disagree with you Ms. Saporta, but the missing ingredient in that equation of much-needed togetherness and progress is the critically-needed leadership of state government.
    State government’s refusal to lead is the biggest shortcoming to working towards the future in the Atlanta region and the state of Georgia.
    State government’s refusal to lead is the biggest failure in working towards the future in the Atlanta region and the state of Georgia.
    As witnessed by last year’s convoluted T-SPLOST referendum, when it comes to critically-important matters like transportation, education and water, state government has pretty much abandoned its leadership post and left the citizens of the great state of Georgia to fend for themselves.Report

    Reply
  8. writes_of_weigh says:

    Maria – it seems that while the Atlanta Link trip followed an adaptation of Horace Greeley’s advice to “Go West……young…”, the GDOT folks had their attention diverted in the opposite direction, the Tarheel state to be precise, where they have been coordinating H-S-R meetings(as reported by WRAL(( http://dot.ga.gov/AtlantaCharlotteHSR))) in order to, one assumes, plan for the higher speed movement of frozen chicken feet(found in abundance in the Gainesville area) to either a freight train connection in Atlanta or Charlotte, but, unfortunately missing the Brain Train connection to/via Athens. Who knows? Maybe DOT Secretary nominee Foxx can arrange for the SE H-S-R Raleigh-Richmond “dog leg” to be straightened out for a nice high speed 220 MPH run between Atlanta/Charlotte and the Northeast.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      That Norfolk Southern right-of-way/Southern Crescent Corridor route via Gainesville, Toccoa, Clemson, Greenville, Greer and Spartanburg is actually the absolute best route for future high-speed interstate passenger rail service because of how it serves the highest density of population of any of the route alternatives and is already the site of interstate/transcontinental passenger rail transit service in the form of the Amtrak Crescent that operates between New Orleans and New York City.
      The Norfolk Southern right-of-way/Southern Crescent Corridor route is also the best route for future high-speed interstate passenger rail service because of the numerous points-of-interest and importance that would be served, points-of-interest and importance like:
      …Brenau University and the county seat in Gainesville of a fast-growing county of over 185,000 people in Hall County in an area that is a center of economic activity in Northeast Georgia.  Gainesville is also already the site of a train station on the existing Amtrak Crescent interstate passenger rail line.
      …Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, Georgia and a town that is also already the site of an existing train station on the existing Amtrak Crescent interstate passenger rail line.
      …The nearly 21,000-student Clemson University (a campus which includes an 81,500-seat college football stadium at Memorial Stadium and a 10,000-seat multi-purpose arena at Littlejohn Coliseum) in the major college town of Clemson, South Carolina.  Clemson University is a member of a major athletic conference in the Atlantic Coast Conference and is a major center for college athletics.  Clemson, SC is also already the site of a train station on the existing Amtrak Crescent interstate passenger rail line.
      …Greenville, South Carolina, a fast-growing city that is the county seat of a fast-growing county of over 450,000 people in Greenville County, SC and a growing center of economic activity with increasing international appeal for the entire Upstate/Upcountry region of Northwestern South Carolina.  The Greenville area is home to three principal universities in Furman University, North Greenville University and the Bob Jones University of past infamy.  Greenville is also already the site of a train station on the existing Amtrak Crescent interstate passenger rail line.  Downtown Greenville is also in the advanced stages of an ongoing urban revitalization process with many shops, restaurants, residences and a downtown riverwalk area, all with growing tourism appeal.
      …Greer, South Carolina, a fast-growing suburb of Greenville and site of Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, an airport that would effectively become a second reliever airport (behind Chattanooga) to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Int’l Airport with a high-speed interstate passenger rail link to and from Atlanta.
      …Spartanburg, South Carolina, an important industrial city of 37,000 that is the county seat of a fast-growing county of 285,000 people in Spartanburg County, SC.  Spartanburg is home to Wofford College and is also the headquarters of the historic Southern Conference, an athletic conference which gave birth to the modern-day powerhouse athletic conferences of the college football-dominating Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the traditionally college basketball-dominating Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).  Spartanburg is also already the site of a train station on the existing Amtrak Crescent interstate passenger rail line.
      …Gastonia, North Carolina, an important industrial city of over 70,000 people that is the seat of government for a county of over 206,000 people in Gaston County, NC.  Gastonia is also already the site of a train station on the existing Amtrak Crescent interstate passenger rail line.
      The “Brain Train” route to Athens by way of the CSX/Seaboard Airline rail right-of-way would be much better suited as a separate and individual project to implement regional heavy rail/commuter rail transit service (on grade-separated tracks that were separate from the existing freight rail tracks) between the Atlanta Airport and Athens. 
      That’s because of the regional significance and importance in that rail right-of-way which parallels the busy Georgia Highway 316 corridor between Atlanta and the state of Georgia’s flagship university at the University of Georgia at Athens. 
      Because of the frequent commuter movements between Atlanta and the Athens area which is not only just the home of the state’s flagship university but is also an area of increasing exurban residential development for those who live in or near Athens but commute to and from jobs in the Atlanta area, regional heavy rail transit passenger train service between the Atlanta Airport and Sanford Stadium in Athens is the best option passenger rail implementation for the CSX/Seaboard Airline rail right-of-way between Atlanta and Athens.
      The Norfolk Southern rail right-of-way/Southern Crescent Corridor is also an excellent candidate for regional heavy rail transit passenger train service (on grade-separated passenger train-only tracks that are separate from the existing freight rail tracks) between the Atlanta Airport and Downtown Gainesville, because of the very-heavy commuter movements between Atlanta and Gainesville in an area that continues to become more of an outer-suburban/exurban bedroom community for Atlanta.Report

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      • Rees Cramer says:

        The Last Democrat in Georgia I agree that the HSR is a great idea it also a golden ring that cannot be reached for along time. but it will take a decade or more to even get off the ground. We will have to change our national transportation priorities before much of a HSR system can get built.  Meanwhile, the brain train is so awesome I am stunned that it does not exist.  We have four amazing universities that don’t even compete with one another academically and yet are some of the best in the category for which they are know.  The faculty and students of these institutions deserve to be interconnected so that they can build on that diversity.  Further more our state is missing an amazing economic opportunity by linking these institutions…..Plus you can ride to game day.  The Braintrain is really a no-brainer.Report

        Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          Rees Cramer The Last Democrat in Georgia In addition to the 4 major universities that you speak of (Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory and Georgia), there are 2 more university areas that would be served by high-capacity passenger rail service within the existing CSX/Seaboard Airline rail right-of-way in the form of the “Brain Train” between Atlanta and Athens.
          The very fast-growing Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville would also be served by the future “Brain Train” high-capacity passenger rail line on the CSX/Seaboard Airline rail right-of-way with a stop that is planned to be in Downtown Lawrenceville.
          The historic colleges of the Atlanta University Center would also be served by the “Brain Train” high-capacity passenger rail line on the CSX/Seaboard Airline rail right-of-way by running the south end of the line beyond the stop at the planned MMPT in Downtown Atlanta to terminate at the world-leading Atlanta Airport with a stop at or very near the current site of the West End MARTA Station.
          In all likelihood, the “Brain Train” will one day exist in a very-robust way in the form of a high-capacity passenger rail line that provides very high-frequency premium heavy rail-type service between the Atlanta Airport and Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia in Athens.
          But for now, the reason why the “Brain Train” does not yet exist is because of the logistical difficulty of operating a high-level of passenger rail service on the same tracks on which a relatively very-high level of freight rail traffic already operates.
          Expanding the trackage along the CSX/Seaboard Airline right-of-way so that the growing amounts of freight rail traffic and a high-level of passenger rail traffic could operate at the same exact times as needed will be very-costly (possibly into the billions) and more than a very-conservative state government that is still extremely-skeptical (if not often hostile) of the ability of transit to help traffic congestion and public mobility is willing to spend on a mode of transportation that they have not really warmed up to yet or just simply don’t like for ideological reasons.Report

          Reply
  9. writes_of_weigh says:

    Maria – Presuming that the way forward, in Atlanta traffic parlance, translates to a gridlocked snail’s pace in hardly perceptible “forward” movement, some of those recently(and a few still) in elective office from around the fruited plain, and who have yet to de-gridlock the nation, suggest that you (safely) pull over(if stuck in highway traffic), pull out your smart(or dumb)phone(if stuck sitting on a taxi-way, or in an Acela lounge car) and text them that you’re going nowhere, slowly…..{{http://action.bafuture.org/imstuck/}}!!! Most of them are likely flying into/out of private aero-ports aboard private or “value-shared” aircraft, and possibly “pulling down” high dollar lobbying jobs. All they want to do is  h e l p   us?Report

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