Congestion. Something we deal with every day. Our population is rapidly expanding causing more and more traffic. When MARTA was created over 50 years ago, the expectations were it would cover the five core counties with a transit system to enable us to compete as a world-class city.
Since only two of the core counties agreed,we have grown our system much more slowly than our two transit cousins born about the same time in San Francisco and Washington D.C. Clayton County finally joined MARTA 5 years ago. Cobb County has yet to, but is seriously looking into it. Gwinnett County has shown signs of being ready to move forward, which is why we are being given a choice on March 19th.
Daily, our highways in the Atlanta area slow to a standstill, simply because there are too many of us on the roads — and because there is currently no better way to get around. Many of our roads have reached the point where expanding them is no longer a viable option due to a phenomenon called induced demand. Induced demand is where we add capacity and it draws cars to that new capacity until it fills it up again at congestion levels it was at previously, and all within a few years.
Our best and really only option is an integrated public transportation system — a rail system that expands deep into Gwinnett as well as expanded bus service, including a bus rapid transit system along heavily traveled routes that eventually can be converted to rail, and more and better local bus service. This expanded Gwinnett service will provide connectivity to work and play locations around the region such as SunTrust Park, State Farm Arena, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Cobb Energy Center, Perimeter Center, etc., some of which we do not yet directly reach from most parts of Gwinnett.
A truly connected metro Atlanta would have enormous benefits for Gwinnett. Currently patients who don’t drive cannot easily reach many doctors because of our limited transit service. Business leaders have a major concern that Gwinnett is losing business because of limited transit service because their employment pool is restricted since employees can’t get to them easily.
Recently two large corporations, WestRock and NCR, chose to leave Gwinnett and relocate near existing rail transit stations in Sandy Springs and Midtown, respectively, costing Gwinnett over 2,000 local jobs. Other major employers have relocated to the Atlanta area and chosen to build office buildings at or near rail stations which don’t exist in Gwinnett.
Having the kinds of high-paying jobs rail transit will bring will reduce the need to drive out of the county for jobs, thereby reducing traffic. That is the future as companies are seeking high-skilled, high-paid workers and understand that their future work forces are demanding locations along transit corridors.
The younger generations as well as the currently retiring Baby Boomers are looking for more live, work and play communities that are walkable and have access to biking paths and to jobs via transit without having to drive, thus reducing car dependency.
Providing alternatives to driving will help those who can use the systems as well as those who won’t use the system. Those who won’t ride on the system gain by having less cars on the road since those drivers are now riding on transit gaining extra sleep, work or leisure time. Gwinnett faces gridlock as an expected 500,000 people will move into the county over the next 20-plus years if we only keep doing more of the same with some road expansions.
Don’t fall for the false narrative about increased crime due to transit. David Wickert’s Feb. 19 news story in the AJC included research that showed that isn’t true. There are no reasons to not expand transit here by joining MARTA, but several reasons why it is a good idea. Connectivity to the region was one of the key issues supported during several meetings with the public when creating the proposed transit plan. Surveys of residents in Gwinnett have shown that they understand that a greater investment in transit is necessary for our future, including support for a sales tax to fund transit expansion.
Gwinnett recently passed a transit plan – which is a good start, but now we need a commitment to actually getting it done.
By Gwinnett committing to a long-term funding plan for transit expansion, we can tap into federal funds available to assist local government transit systems — funds that Georgia pays out but that do not all return here. By joining MARTA we gain from an experienced management group already in existence that has vastly improved their performance recently and we save money by dropping our contracted private management vendor. We replace the current funding for our local system which comes from property taxes and replace it with funding from sales taxes as well as state and federal matching funds. A better connected region leads to smoother commutes, more and better jobs close to home and cleaner air for our kids.
The proposed operating contract gives Gwinnett unprecedented control over how the tax money raised here is spent. The proposed sales tax replaces property taxes which are currently used to provide transit service. We all gain in some way from better transportation infrastructure whether you use it directly or not.
It’s time to invest in our local economy. Early voting begins February 25th and continues daily until March 17th at designated early voting locations with a final day to vote on March 19th which will be at your regular voting precinct location.
Art Sheldon is a former Gwinnett Transit Board chairman and the current Conservation Chair for the Gwinnett Group of the Sierra Cub.
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