Strong leaders can solve gridlock

But the Twin Cities and Atlanta have serious transportation challenges in common. On an Atlanta Regional Commission LINK leadership exchange trip recently to Minneapolis and St. Paul, I and other Atlanta leaders learned how that region of 3.5 million residents as well as the entire state of Minnesota pulled together to overcome this critical issue.

We heard how the business community spearheaded a drive that resulted in five of the seven counties in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area passing a quarter-cent sales tax to fund new transit initiatives such as commuter rail lines, express buses and bus rapid transit.

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson told us how his organization was a key leader along with other business, local government and community coalitions in developing a $3.3 million campaign that helped secure passage of a constitutional amendment dedicating all proceeds from motor vehicle sales taxes to transportation. And, the Minnesota Chamber is now supporting an extra $1.2 billion in government investment during the next 12 years to speed development of five Twin Cities' transit lines by 2020 — at least a decade earlier than current funding would allow.

Minnesota's transportation system was declining and its economic viability suffering. The business community championed finding solutions to the crisis, partnering with their elected officials at every level. Minnesota is now well on its way to developing safer and more efficient ways to move people and products throughout the state.

Atlanta — and Georgia — can produce the same results with focused, consistent and united leadership from our business community. We have to consider what works for our entire state, not just what works in our own backyard. Our state's ability to continue to grow its economic base depends on it — no matter where we are located in Georgia.

Perimeter, the largest employer market in metro Atlanta, is a prime example of what the business community in our state has already achieved. Ten years ago, congestion threatened Perimeter's future and corporate leaders knew they had to focus specifically on the issue, act quickly and deliver results or Perimeter would not reach its full potential to retain and attract employees or new businesses to the area.

Commercial property owners voted to establish the DeKalb Perimeter Community Improvement District and pay additional property taxes to fund more efficient transportation services for the Perimeter market. The CID model was so successful that a second PCID to serve North Fulton County was formed in 2001. And, the PCIDs have helped serve as a model for new CIDs in the metro Atlanta area.

The two PCIDs have made great strides in improving mobility and access in Perimeter. The PCIDs' $28.4 million contribution in the past 10 years has leveraged a 25 to 1 investment of $718 million in local, state and federal dollars for many mobility enhancements in the area.

The transportation and economic development agendas of the PCIDs are directly tied to one another. Healthy economic development provides market opportunities to keep building Perimeter as an urban center. In turn, affordable and convenient transportation choices are required to keep economic development healthy. This scenario can be multiplied many times throughout our state.

There is no magic bullet for solving our transportation woes. Resolving this crisis is about creating the political will, extending the table to include good citizen involvement, and having the determined business leadership to ensure that Georgia has a well-planned, multi-modal transportation system with sustainable funding to meet our needs.

Yvonne Williams is president and CEO of Perimeter Community Improvement Districts.

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