Atlanta makes choice to help Metro Denver grow jobs
Let's be clear at the outset. Metro Denver competes with Atlanta for new jobs.
On a vote of 37 percent "Yes" and 67 percent "No," Metro Atlanta defeated a one cent, ten-year sales tax initiative for roads and transit. The initiative was designed to lift Atlanta out of a crushing congestion problem.
This past year Metro Denver surpassed Atlanta as the top choice of 25- to 34-year-olds to live and work. Whether we like it or not, younger workers have a very different view of mobility. The car is no longer the status symbol it once was.
In a first-ever attempt to unite a 10 county region, Atlanta voters said "No," loudly. Roads are not the only response to congestion. Atlanta's "Free Our Freeways" initiative a few decades ago was widely used as the poster child for the argument against a "roads only" growth strategy. Someone once said, "A wise man does first what a fool does finally." What do you call a fool who doesn't do anything? You can fill in the blanks.
In 2004, Metro Denver voters approved the nation's most ambitious transit program—FasTracks—realizing that while roads are vital to our economic success, we would be even more successful if transit provided employers full access to the region's labor force. By 2000, congestion was on its way to splitting our available labor force at I-70. Prospective employers noted that without significant transportation improvements, their employee options would be cut in half. It damaged our competitive position.
FasTrack's proponents united business, civic, political, and environmental groups; a coalition that held together despite strong efforts to tear them apart. Atlanta went the other way. The Sierra Club and the NAACP opposed the tax because there wasn't enough transit in the proposal to their liking. Politicians who initially supported the effort fled to the opposition when polling numbers went negative.
No one wants to jump on Atlanta's misfortune (we willingly shared our experiences with the Atlanta group), but such a colossal failure is an object lesson to others looking at transportation solutions.
Regions are built on collaborative actions—realizing that no group should be left outside the tent. But surrendering the entire project, because it's not everyone's "perfect solution," guarantees only one thing—starting over.
Tags: FasTracks, Regionalism, Transportation
About Tom Clark
Tom has over 30 years of economic development experience at the state, regional, and local levels, spanning from Illinois to Colorado. He is known both for his quips and his candor. Often quoted in the local and national press on Metro Denver’s economy, his iPhone is his most valued possession next to his Les Paul guitar. He is also famous for writing parody songs, maintaining an orderly office, and funding the office swear jar. Tom says that if wasn’t an economic developer, his dream would be to work in a chocolate factory. Learn more >>
About The Cone of Silence
Invented by Professor Cone from TV’s "Get Smart," the Cone of Silence was designed to protect the most secret of conversations by enshrouding its users within a transparent sound-proof shield. Unfortunately, from experience, we have also learned that it never works properly. This blog offers those outside our “Cone of Silence” a unique look at economic development in the region. Learn about the Cone of Silence >>