In August 2013, I wrote about the loss of public transit in Clayton County: “For those who think transportation is a personal problem, consider the businesses that have abandoned the county and taken hundreds of jobs with them; consider the vacant buildings, empty shopping plazas and hundreds of teens who don’t have summer jobs. Without public transportation, the entire county continues to suffer. Foreclosures continue to rise, property values continue to fall, economic development declines, new businesses don’t come and county revenue is reduced.”
The loss of public transportation caused a lot of economic hardship for families and businesses. Now, just a day before the general election, I am again being asked, “Why is it important to vote ‘yes’ for MARTA in Clayton?” The answer is, “All of the above.” These are still valid reasons why we must vote “yes.”
By voting “yes,” citizens agree that a one-cent MARTA sales tax will improve the quality of life, economic development and job creation. By voting “yes,” we can transform an entire county and, potentially, a region. It will be life-changing for voters to say “yes” on a binding referendum that will bring public transportation to the county, by becoming a full member of MARTA.
In the words of U.S. Rep. David Scott, passage of this referendum will position Clayton for the enormous economic growth and development that includes Porsche and Aerotropolis, Fort Gillem and the communications center at Southlake Mall. We can expect many more to follow.
Voting “yes” will help reduce our 9.4 percent unemployment rate. A “yes” vote will provide thousands of Clayton citizens greater access to jobs that are more available and plentiful north of Atlanta. Voting “yes” will provide our senior citizens the independence to come and go as they please, to visit friends, travel to medical appointments, go shopping, attend church and/or spend more time with family.
Voting “yes” will enable students without transportation to attend colleges and technical schools here in Clayton and anywhere in the metro Atlanta region. At the same time, students from elsewhere will be able to access and attend Clayton colleges, such as Clayton State University, ITT University, Strayer, Shorter and other local campuses.
Voting “yes” will provide great benefit to local small businesses that often depend on foot traffic for customers. A “yes” vote will provide much-needed relief for apartment properties that saw a 50-percent decrease in occupancy when tenants moved to other areas with public transportation.
Voting “yes” will provide Clayton with quality, affordable bus service and a guaranteed opportunity for high-capacity transit options including commuter rail or bus rapid transit. With MARTA’s transit-oriented development, voting “yes” will position Clayton to follow the trend in other locales where public transit leads to economic growth, increased property values and added revenues for our municipalities.
When citizens vote to approve the contract signed by the Clayton County Commission and MARTA, we can look forward to bus service starting as early as March. No one is under the illusion that MARTA is perfect, but MARTA is the ninth-largest transit system in U.S. and has one of the best performance records in the industry.
Passage of this referendum means MARTA will hire more than 400 new employees, and its job fairs can offer job opportunities for Clayton residents. MARTA will also provide mobility service or paratransit service for elderly and disabled patrons. As a full member of MARTA, Clayton will have representation on the MARTA board and participate in future transit decisions.
Clayton is the home of the world’s busiest airport. Our citizens deserve world-class transit, and they are willing to pay for what they need by supporting this 1 percent sales tax to join MARTA. As a Friend of Clayton Transit, I’m encouraging Clayton County citizens to vote “yes” to jobs, “yes” to transit, “yes” to MARTA.
Former state Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam is a founder and president of Friends of Clayton Transit and vice president of Citizens for Progressive Transit.
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