Editor's Note: The following is an opinion piece submitted to Midtown Patch. It does not necessarily reflect the views of Patch.
This Is Our Time
College students, graduate students and young professional leaders of Atlanta, this is our time. State leaders and officials from across the Atlanta region have aligned – something that doesn’t happen often – to provide us with what may be a once-in-a-decade opportunity to directly impact our quality of life.
In 1960 we got the Atlanta Braves, in 1970 we got MARTA, in 1990 we got the Olympics and now we are staring at the single largest investment opportunity in the recent history of our state, a multi-billion dollar infrastructure program called the Transportation Investment Act (TIA). All you have to do is vote yes, and more than $7 billion of investment will be made in the Atlanta area over the next 10 years.
Pollsters are showing that the public vote required to approve the TIA will be close. Pundits are questioning whether or not we’re ready to take such a big step. But the pollsters and pundits are not counting on us.
There are opposition leaders out there like State Senator Chip Rogers who will tell you that the TIA won’t fix traffic congestion.
I’ve worked on transportation issues for the past four years and I know Rogers is wrong; the TIA will have a meaningful impact on our traffic problem. The project list is a mix of transit and road improvements, and congestion on the improved roads is cut by an average of 24%.
But the traffic benefits are not what I care about the most.
What’s more important – a lot more important – is the economic impact of regional investment on this scale. That’s the point that Senator Rogers seems to miss.
An investment of $5 billion won us the Olympics, put us on the global map and likely played a large part in creating the jobs your parents had, the endowments at your universities and your ability to find your first job. Similar transportation infrastructure investments in cities like Dallas and Denver have shown similar results. Both those cities have surpassed Atlanta in the recruitment of young professionals, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. They, too, had debates about congestion relief, but at the end of the day the result was economic development and job creation.
In the last ten years Atlanta has ranked second to last in transportation investment and the results are clear. I’m not asking you to believe my employment statistics or jobs forecast, just think about the people you grew up with, went to school with and think about how many of the best have left town. In business school I have watched first hand, as have many of you, as the best and brightest of our generation took jobs in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Charlotte, Houston and elsewhere. In the same way, I’m not asking you to believe some traffic mitigation study about highway congestion; I’m asking you to think about how a $7 billion investment in metro Atlanta will impact our economy.
It is easy to be disillusioned with politics when we have politicians that are more focused on reelection and partisanship than the well-being of the people they swore to serve. Many of our elected officials seem unable to see past county lines.
Ironically, Senator Rogers co-sponsored the legislation to create this opportunity. He signed one of the first bills to create this program along with then State Senator, now Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Mayor Reed remains a staunch TIA supporter. Senator Rogers’ reversal of his position is a glaring example of why we need to seize this opportunity now – true leadership can be fleeting, and we may not get a second chance.
I know asking you to vote is a big ask and in a July primary it is even bigger, but we can make a difference in this one.
Our generation is smart enough to see beyond the petty politics, we know the economy is global, capital does not care about jurisdictional boundaries. We have the chance, thanks again to another generation of Atlanta leaders including Mayor Reed, Governor Deal, Post Properties CEO Dave Stockert, Metro Atlanta Chamber President Sam Williams and many others, to help create our own jobs, improve our own economy and make a brighter future for our children.