Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Connecting the Port of Savannah and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport by high-speed rail is just one of the major infrastructure projects Mayor Kasim Reed thinks Georgians should get behind. Inspired by the accomplishments of visionary presidents, he calls on the state to create public-private partnerships and an infrastructure bank to help speed us on our road to the future. In our other column, I write about MARTA’s nuisance program, the readers’ response to it, and my own problem with public transit.
Commenting is open below my column on MARTA.
By Kasim Reed
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln pushed forward with building the transcontinental railroad, which helped unite and rebuild America. In the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the interstate highway system. A few years later, President John F. Kennedy inspired a generation when he challenged us with the goal of landing a man on the moon and surpassing Russia in space exploration.
America’s greatest leaders have always put patriotism before politics to invest in our nation’s infrastructure and technology. More often than not, the timing is less than ideal, and the expense may seem hard to bear, but these initiatives have helped make our nation the greatest in the world. We must continue that tradition to ensure America’s future competitiveness. Investing in ports, roads, bridges and airports have consistently enjoyed overwhelming Democratic and Republican support. President Barack Obama’s July signing of House Resolution 4348, a comprehensive transportation infrastructure bill, was another critical step in the right direction.
Closer to home, the recent certificate of decision for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will contribute greatly to the growth of one of our state’s most important and dynamic job-generators. The Port of Savannah is the fastest-growing and fourth-largest U.S. container port. In Atlanta, Hartsfield-Jackson is the world’s busiest passenger airport, with more than 92 million travelers last year and a growing air cargo capability. These two assets provide Georgia with an undeniable advantage in the global marketplace at a time when many of our fiercest competitors are not in another state, but on another continent.
Imagine, then, if the state’s two most important logistics hubs were linked by high-speed rail. The argument for this goal is a powerful one, as leading cities in the world have strong sea and air logistics capability. Additionally, the possibility of leaving work at 5 p.m. and being on the Georgia coast by 6:30 p.m. is equally compelling. High-speed rail between Atlanta and Savannah also would strike a powerful blow to the critique that there are “Two Georgias.” Finally, it is an inspiring idea, one that dares us to think and prepare for a future with multiple economic centers within the state. These are the kinds of debates worth having, and many communities around the nation are embracing and championing these kinds of plans.
As President Bill Clinton says, we have to be in the future business. I recently joined him and a group of elected officials and policy experts in Pocantico, N.Y., to exchange information about the development of infrastructure banks and ways to use public-private partnerships to secure funds at very low interest rates without overburdening taxpayers.
The Atlanta Beltline, a local project discussed during that meeting, exemplifies exactly this type of forward-thinking vision around infrastructure. More than $41 million for the project has been raised through private philanthropy. Special tax allocation district funds, designed to foster smart development in city neighborhoods, along with other local bond sources and federal funding have helped make up the difference. To date, this investment has attracted more than $750 million in new private development in many of the city’s most vital neighborhoods.
In a recent local referendum, voters made it clear they won’t accept any new taxes unless they are confident government can deliver concrete results in an open, fair and transparent fashion. Public-private partnerships and the development of an infrastructure bank that provides low-interest loans to states and municipalities are tools that should be deployed.
It is incumbent on today’s leaders to develop common-sense approaches to improve our region’s infrastructure in a manner that creates new jobs, retains the jobs we have, and safeguards taxpayer dollars. We also need to follow the example of our nation’s greatest leaders and undertake bold, transformative projects that make our city, state and nation stronger now and in the future.
Kasim Reed is Mayor of Atlanta.
By Tom Sabulis
I’ve been an Atlanta resident for nearly 22 years, and for most of that time, I’ve been a regular MARTA user. I’ve lived at four different addresses, and only when my house was not located conveniently to MARTA did I drive to work on a regular basis.
I rarely drive to work now that the newspaper has relocated its office from downtown to Dunwoody. Rush-hour traffic on the north side is gridlocked enough to keep me tapping my Breeze card. When I’m not taking the bus from home to the Midtown train station, I drive four miles across town to Lindbergh Center, park for free and meet the train. The Dunwoody MARTA station is across the street from our office.
For me, public transit is a no-brainer. Why should I waste time sitting in traffic on I-285 or Ga. 400, jockeying with all the weasels trying to cut me off in the exit line?
This approach makes me the kind of customer MARTA would like to see more of: a “lifestyle rider,” they call it, someone who uses public transit by choice, not necessity.
But that choice may not be so clear-cut much longer. MARTA’s service needs to improve. Recently, the transit agency kicked off a “nuisance” program, a marketing campaign designed to make riders aware of annoying behaviors: talking loudly on cellphones, blocking doorways and begging money from other riders.
It’s a good effort, but it’s almost besides the point. My main complaint, my biggest nuisance, is the frequency — or infrequency — of service. The amount of time one spends waiting for trains and buses is my game-changer. To quote songwriter Tom Petty, “the waiting is the hardest part.” MARTA’s very name includes the words “rapid transit,” but there’s little rapid about it. Waiting 15 minutes for a train, and 25 minutes for a bus, during rush hour is a lot to ask. In comparison, rush hour trains arrive every nine to 12 minutes in Boston, depending on which line you’re riding. In Chicago, it’s three to eight minutes between trains. (On Dallas’ new system, the wait is about the same as Atlanta’s.)
Other MARTA riders I’ve talked with have different concerns, as do some bloggers, who responded on our Atlanta Forward blog on the nuisance campaign. “Who thinks posters with cutesy phrases are going to cause crackheads and aggressive panhandlers to suddenly act civilized?” wrote a reader named Chip.
A blogger named Rider Inman defended MARTA. “I take the train/bus a couple of times a week and have been doing so for years,” he wrote. “I’ve never had the problems some of these people complain to be so persistent on MARTA. Is there loud music coming from phones on the train? Sure, sometimes. But you can always switch cars. Is there a homeless person from time to time? On occasion, but it’s not a rolling shelter as some posters believe it is. I’m guessing those same posters don’t worry about the homeless at every on and off ramp because they can be sheltered from reality in their personal car bubble while texting on their iPhone. ”
Crime has not been a problem for me, knock on wood; I have never been mugged or aggressively panhandled, although I understand how the threat of those things concern some, particularly women. I use MARTA mostly during rush hours, and rarely at night. I never consider it on weekends, due to even sleepier service on Saturday and Sunday.
But many residents do not have the luxury of ditching MARTA. It’s all they have. They’re the ones who must endure the hardships of a system not operating anywhere near its full potential. The nuisances targeted by the agency are the small price of big-city living. Any urbanites worth their salt can figure out how to avoid them. MARTA would do a lot more for time-crunched working people if it just became more efficient at its core mission. Moving us. That shortcoming is why more people with choices choose not to ride transit.