Lack of transit options can cost communities business opportunities
Recently, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul wrote an essay about how his fair city lost a business opportunity to Atlanta. What? That’s right, Atlanta snatched employer World Pay from Sandy Springs, one of those communities that was one of the first to incorporate in the recent spate of incorporation. Mayor Paul cites transit - or lack thereof - as the number one reason why his city lost the company World Pay to Atlanta.
Some might say, “Why would a lack of public transportation keep a potential employer away from any city?” Paul says that members of the millennial generation utilize public transportation. In others words, “millennials” are preferring to ditch the traditional automobile when it comes to commuting to work and perhaps other activities. Employers like World Pay would like to attract “millennials” to come work for them. World Pay discovered this fact and passed on locating to Sandy Springs, according to the mayor. Mayor Paul is most likely realizing a trend: quality transit is essential if a community wishes to attract employers.
Perhaps young folks -- as well as some of their older counterparts -- are tired of negotiating their automobiles through congested corridors like Sandy Springs’ Roswell Road and arteries that feed into that busy thoroughfare. While there are thousands who do not mind sitting in their vehicles burning gas, there are many who wish for transportation alternatives. Now, someone would respond to the burning gas situation to say that the Peach State offers great deals for drivers to buy electric cars. Indeed the incentives to purchase an electric car are attractive for those who do not want to guzzle gas, but the problem is, the owner is still sitting in traffic.
If cities like Sandy Springs implemented light rail service that would feed off of MARTA, perhaps folks like World Pay wouldn’t hesitate to locate there. Other communities need to take notice of Mayor Paul’s latest opinion on the situation. This is a “teachable moment” which ought to be seized upon at this time.
In addition to Roswell Road, Metro Atlanta is chock full of nightmare traffic scenarios including “Spaghetti Junction,” the East Freeway, the Emory/CDC/Clifton corridor, the Perimeter, sections of anti-pedestrian Buford Highway, Georgia 400, Gwinnett’s Peachtree Parkway, East Cobb’s Johnson Ferry Road, the Downtown Connector and the list could go on - I haven’t even gotten to the Southside in ages due to horrific traffic and a lack of transportation options. The bottom line is, the road situation scheme is dated and inefficient. Adding more roads cannot be the answer. Doing so is like adding to the mistakes that have already been implemented in Metro Atlanta for the past four decades.
The big question is how can cities like Sandy Springs make expanded transit a reality? Previous attempts at raising revenue have failed. The comprehensive T-SPLOST vote was resoundingly defeated. Go back several years and one could remember the multiple times folks defeated MARTA’s expansion. Even a few years after the MARTA votes and the T-SPLOST failure, much of the voting public is not thrilled with passing such measures in the future even with the fact that cities lose potential employers. So, what is the answer? At the moment, there are none.
A recent transportation summit was held in Atlanta with over 700 attendees. Chief amongst those attendees were Georgia’s governor and lieutenant governor. Both declined to provide specific answers to improving and expanding upon public transportation options. The lieutenant governor seemed to be a bit more candid by saying that the current infrastructure needs to, “be capitalized on.”
Whether it is Sandy Springs or Atlanta, it seems that plans for solid public transportation expansion and improvement are far from the drawing boards. The revealing fact is that if any community wishes to attract employers and young professionals, being able to efficiently move from Point A to Point B is essential. Otherwise, those communities will lose out on solid business opportunities to those communities willing to make good public transportation a reality.
Within this discussion about funding alternative transportation, we haven’t even touched on maintaining and repairing existing roads and bridges in addition to installing bike lanes and paths. Another alternative is the streetcar. The streetcars in Atlanta looks mighty nice as they are tested out as of this writing, but at the moment, it’s not a transportation alternative. The streetcar is more like a toy for tourists. Still, that idea could work in congested areas, but it would take a lot to make it happen. I’m sure hoping those issues and more were discussed the summit.
While we’re on that recent transportation summit, the lieutenant governor also admitted that in order to grow, investment needs to happen. How to get those investments to happen would probably require another summit.