About 300 people representing both business and government sectors came to discuss the future of a regional light rail system that would connect the northern Atlanta suburbs Wednesday morning at the Cobb Galleria Centre.
The proposed Metro Atlanta Northern Crescent Transit would connect with existing MARTA rail lines and extend into Cobb, North Fulton and Gwinnett counties.
“This is about jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Brandon Beach, North Fulton Chamber of Commerce president and Georgia Department of Transportation board member.
A survey conducted by McKinsey & Company in 2008 found that by investing $26 billion to $46 billion in transportation infrastructure, including light rail, Georgia could increase its gross domestic product by $114 billion and create 230,000 jobs over the next 20 years.
Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission put the project’s impact into perspective.
“As (Atlanta Mayor) Kasim Reed said, this is the biggest public works project we have ever considered in the state of Georgia,” said Leithead. “The Olympics was $1.8 billion in economic impact. This is three times that at least.”
The project seems to be favored by citizens in the impacted regions. Beach cited a recent survey of North Fulton residents. Of the respondents, 79.8 percent were in favor of a transit system.
“I’m convinced if it’s clean, safe and reliable, the most important being safe, people will take transit,” Beach said.
Improvements to public transit are also favored in Cobb County, said Faye DiMassimo, director of the Cobb County Department of Transportation.
“In 2008 the University of Georgia did a survey research and did a comprehensive random telephone survey to reach a broad community sample,” she said. “There were 160 questions on transportation issues. And a majority of the respondents favor improving public transit over building news roads.
However, summit participants were realistic about what the proposed transit system would accomplish.
“Roads are not the enemy and we understand that,” said Brian Allen, director of the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation. “We still need roads in this region. We understand that that’s not going to be strictly transit. That’s going to have to have a mix of projects on it."
Steve Banta, CEO of Phoenix METRO Light Rail, and Pat McCrory, former mayor of Charlotte, N.C., both discussed how light rail transit systems were implemented successfully in their cities. They also offered advice to the assembly.
“It does take a lot of work,” Banta said. “And it starts with seminars and summits like this. People in the same room and talking about what needs to be done.”
Both projects took about 10 years to complete.
“I do want to let you know, all the people in this room; especially those who are 50 and over like I am, you’re doing this for the next generation,” McCrory said. “So they have the same economic opportunities and the same quality of life that you’ve had for the past 20 years in this incredible Atlanta region.”
Summit leaders explained that the next step in the process is passing the 2012 Metro Atlanta Referendum, which would allow regions across the state to raise a once-cent sales tax to fund all modes of transportation over a 10-year period.
According to the referendum’s website, this will be the region’s only opportunity for new transportation revenue in the near future.
The referendum goes on the ballot July 2012.