Make no mistake, this vote is about our region. All of us in metro Atlanta have a once-in-a-generation stake in the successful outcome of Gwinnett County’s transit vote on March 19th. A positive outcome will be an example of forward thinking. It will be a recognition that we are fortunate to be part of a robust economy with a diverse population with a variety of needs. And it will be an acknowledgment that we can further grow and mature as an urbanizing region while continuing to retain the individual character of our communities and neighborhoods. A no vote, closing the door to expanding our commuting options, will reverberate across the region – and send a message to the rest of America – with immediate and long-term damage to our economic prosperity and quality of life.
The Council for Quality Growth’s work every day in cities and counties across our region makes clear to us that each community needs to study and agree on what modes of mobility are right for them. We would not suggest that one size fits all. But equally clear to us is that across the region connectivity is critical. We need mobility options. Above all, metro Atlanta needs a seamless transportation system that works for all. This isn’t easy or simple, but it is essential.
Gwinnett has long set a course of leadership in infrastructure and quality of life, as the county has grown explosively to nearly one million people. This transit plan thoughtfully addresses demand throughout the county, focusing heavily on the deployment of BRT (or light rail on rubber). It is not a be-all, end-all proposition, but it offers alternatives to the only option we have today: get in your car, and sit in traffic. It will allow Gwinnett to grow and mature as an urban region, while preserving the character of the county that has been cultivated for the past 100 years.
Some say let’s wait for better technology, self-driving cars, and innovations we haven’t seen yet. We look forward to those innovations becoming part of the solution as they come to fruition. Their incorporation will be predicated on the existence of transit infrastructure that should have been laid 30 years ago – and must be created now.
Gwinnett County Chairman Charlotte Nash knew what transit expansion would mean for the County when, every day during the 2018 Legislative session, she was at the State Capitol advocating for this unique provision to make a vote possible. Nash and other leaders at all levels of government in the county know that parts of Gwinnett are transitioning from suburban to urban. They understand the critical importance of Gwinnett to the economic vitality of metro Atlanta, the Southeast and the United States.
Gov. Nathan Deal, State Sen. Brandon Beach, and State Rep. Kevin Tanner also knew what transportation expansion means to the metro Atlanta region and maintaining Georgia’s standing as the No. 1 state in which to do business. Those three leaders who championed the legislation that led to this vote knew that Gwinnett could use this opportunity to show the metro Atlanta region that it is a county of self-determination, self-investment, and self-reliance.
Voters in Gwinnett are one week into a special election to determine the future of transit in their county. Perhaps unbeknownst to even them, they have been charged with much more: charting the course of transportation in the entire metro Atlanta region for decades.
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Michael E. Paris is president and CEO of the Council for Quality Growth. Ann Hanlon is Executive Director of the Perimeter CIDs and the 2019 Council for Quality Growth Board Chair.