Transportation key to growth

Cities today are battling many challenges. Growing unemployment, deteriorating infrastructure, finite water supplies, congestion and shrinking budgets plague some of America’s biggest urban centers.

By 2050, experts predict 6.2 billion people will live in cities worldwide — nearly as many as our current world population. Today, 84 percent of U.S. residents already live in metropolitan areas, and that number will expand steadily. Cities will be forced to accommodate a huge influx of people — many more than their aging infrastructures were built to support.

As a company, Siemens has helped many countries across the world further their development. With a large presence in Atlanta, employing more than 3,000 people across 30 locations in the metro area, we have seen the importance of a strong infrastructure to a region’s ability to maintain economic growth.

In Atlanta, there are immediate areas for infrastructure improvement. Let’s look at traffic: We have found that we can reduce travel and wait-times dramatically by better monitoring and adjusting traffic-signal timing. When you improve travel times, you increase productivity, reduce waste and improve efficiencies for everyone.

One initial test of a control system for five intersections in metro Atlanta showed an up-to-32 percent decrease in morning rush-hour travel time and a 14 percent reduction in the afternoon rush hour. There were also substantial reductions in delays and stops, which reduced fuel consumption and emissions.

Now let’s look at public transportation: Streetcars are part of the first phase of Atlanta’s project to create a comprehensive, regional streetcar and light-rail transit system. The streetcars will initially run in a loop, bridging the gap between east and west downtown that was formed by the development of the I-75/I-85 connector.

The new system will provide connectivity for downtown’s core, improving accessibility to key business destinations and event venues. The system also will serve as the catalyst for transit-oriented development within the loop. The first car is expected to be delivered in September, with revenue service beginning in early 2013. These will be the first streetcars in Atlanta since 1949.

General upgrades to traffic solutions and public transport, as well as overall infrastructure updates, will help Atlanta better meet today’s population demands and foster job creation in several hard-hit industries. According to a recent Department of Treasury report, 80 percent of jobs created by investing in infrastructure likely will be created in three occupations — construction, manufacturing and retail trade — which are among the hardest hit from the recession.

History shows an indisputable correlation between public infrastructure investment and economic growth: Between 1950 and 1979, public investments in core areas — transportation, water management and electricity transmission — grew at an average annual rate of 4 percent. Overall economic growth (GDP) averaged 4.1 percent per year over that same period. And between 1980 and 2007, public investment growth slowed dramatically to an average 2.3 percent. GDP growth also fell in this more recent period to a 2.9 percent average annual rate.

Highways, railroads, light rail, buses and bicycle lanes — while you might not take advantage of each of these modes of transportation, Atlanta needs a robust infrastructure. Transportation is the glue that holds everything together; the pipeline that moves goods and people. Transportation is the lifeblood of the economy and Atlanta’s direct line to growth.

Daryl Dulaney is president and CEO of Siemens Industry Inc.