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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis January 27, 2012
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Why Buckhead and the Balance of Its 10-County Region Should Support the Transportation Tax

An abbreviated version of this article appeared Jan. 17, 2012, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Transportation is more than a dollars and cents proposition, and is more than a statistic on a graph. It is mobility—this fifth freedom—a social concept, if you wish, for which the benefits cannot be measured with numbers. They must be personally evaluated—by people. The greater the growth and prosperity of a city, the greater the deprivation imposed upon those who are without satisfactory means of transportation. As a community expands geographically and as society expands culturally—as more and more facilities are provided by government and private enterprise to the benefit of the general public, the more absolute is the imprisonment of those who lack mobility.

Yes, I’m addressing the benefits of mass transit—safe, clean, and dependable rail and bus service; the benefits of appropriate roadways—efficient turn lanes, synchronized traffic lights, and adequate signage; the benefits of connectivity—reasonable ways to get from point A to point B in a relaxed state of mind, all summed up in one word: MOBILITY, and the related referendum scheduled for July.

My first paragraph, however, is quoted from a speech I made in 1971 as mayor of Atlanta, in Pittsburgh, to the International Conference on Urban Transportation. It was about our planned referendum on MARTA for mobility needed 40 years ago! The vote for part of the route passed, and traffic congestion was reduced on several major arteries brought about by substitution of a modern rail and bus system—by a 1 percent sales tax—for privately-driven automobiles.

Our “region” then consisted of five counties with slightly over 800,000 registered motor vehicles. Time marches on, and we have grown to a region of 10 counties with 3,205,461 vehicles, and congestion is back, and what we espoused then holds true again today, and needs public support. But, it’s understandable that when asked to vote yourself a tax, it’s reasonable to ask “what do I get in return?”

It is important that we see the big picture—the region, if you wish, as you can be certain that its image affects decisions of individuals and businesses when considering relocation. If rankings for the region are favorable, you can count on positive impact on the parts within. The Buckhead Coalition, which represents only a very small segment of the region, is on record as endorsing the referendum. This community is the center of the 10-county area, and finds itself in charge of safe and comfortable mobility for those traveling through as well as for those residing within.

With $50 million committed for roadway and transit improvements on Piedmont and Roswell roads from the Lindbergh MARTA station to the Sandy Springs city limits, one of Buckhead’s most congested arteries will be greatly improved. Add to that $1,713,450 improvements earmarked for Peachtree Road, plus $525,375 road work on Northside Drive through Buckhead, and the quality of life of the many automobile drivers who live in or visit this community will personally benefit.

Perhaps the impact of greatest magnitude on sustainability of the economic health of Buckhead included in this Transportation Investment Act, is the little talked about Clifton Corridor Transit (MARTA rail service between Buckhead’s Lindbergh Station and Emory University/Centers for Disease Control), at a total funding commitment of $700 million!

The east/west corridor, traversing these two major population centers of the City of Atlanta and the County of DeKalb, is presently one of the least efficient connectors in the metropolitan region. To provide rail transportation between these two destinations, connecting Atlanta’s major Buckhead Community and DeKalb’s major Emory Community, is expected to generate dynamic and dense rail patronage, predicted to reach 2,652,000 annual ridership within a couple of years of completion.

The overall economic impact of the University on Atlanta is more than $5.1 billion a year! Emory’s president, Jim Wagner, states “Innovation and creativity are vital to building a 21st century economy that will be able to provide job opportunities for generations to come.” To me, the economic impact of this improvement itself should pay us back the penny sales tax many times over.

With our current limited two-lane Lindbergh/LaVista connection, this is a prime example of two influential communities that can be expected to meld with such a long missing handshake. With three MARTA stations in Buckhead, with a total current ridership of 4,853,273, the various other MARTA improvements totaling $1,383,540,000 will benefit the present riders and is expected to attract new patrons, also to Buckhead’s benefit.

These facts are rather impressive, but, as I said 40 years ago, “transportation is more than a dollars and cents proposition, and is more than a statistic on a graph. It is mobility—this fifth freedom.”

Sam Massell is president of the Buckhead Coalition, and served as mayor of Atlanta from 1970-74 when he structured the 1 percent sales tax funding to win the MARTA referendum.

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