In 1996, a delegation from Dallas came to Atlanta in search of transportation solutions. After all, metro Atlanta was the transportation hub of the South. Founded as a railroad center, we had the region’s first urban limited access freeway, the nation’s busiest airport and the South’s first subway.
Twenty years later, a delegation from Fulton County, of which I was a part, visited Dallas to witness what our metro area could have looked like, if we had executed the plans that Dallas borrowed.
But from 1996 until the Legislature approved HB 170 and our voters approved last November’s TSPLOST, policymakers had woefully neglected our transportation infrastructure during a period when the regional population almost doubled.
Churchill called the time between World War I and World War II as “the years the locusts ate,” referring to the victorious Allies’ failure to maintain military readiness.
That phrase could apply to Georgia’s infrastructure investment over the past two decades. The stifling traffic we endure today is largely a function of enormous population growth unaccompanied by new transportation solutions to absorb it.
Make no mistake, Dallas is no traffic panacea. When we arrived, we sat in a construction zone near Love Field for quite a while as drivers maneuvered themselves around the work.
But Dallas has implemented a true regional light rail transit network, tolled managed lanes that offer commuters guaranteed 50-mph speeds and a smart blend of publicly and privately funded roads which bought significant new infrastructure improvements.
So, what did we learn?
One, we are paying a price for our 20-year neglect of infrastructure.
Two, there is no solution that eradicates congestion, but mobility can be improved.
Three, 20 years later, retrofitting transportation solutions over mature communities carries some disruptive pain, but if we don’t deal with it now, the pain simply gets worse into the future.
Four, fortunately, we can capitalize on Dallas’ experience and craft even better solutions going forward.
Like the Allies in WWII, we have a lot of catching up to do, but we can win in the end.
Rusty Paul is the mayor of Sandy Springs.