As a Mayor, I can assure you that nothing is more important than investment in our water and transportation systems. Increasingly, our success as a nation depends on how we address our transportation and other infrastructure needs in our metropolitan areas. As Congress prepares for renewal of the federal surface transportation law in October, we must work together to expand our current levels of investment and avoid simply flat-lining these commitments.
According to a July 2012 report, U.S. Metro Economies: Outlook - Gross Metropolitan Product, and Critical Role of Transportation Infrastructure, we have found that over the next 30 years, metropolitan areas will grow by 84 million people. As one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in the nation, Atlanta's population is projected to grow by 67.8 percent from 2012 - 2042. It is hard to fathom how a constant or declining federal commitment will ensure that America reaps all of the potential economic growth in competition with regional economies worldwide.
Under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (P.L. 112-141) (MAP-21), our federal government has made important policy reforms by consolidating programs, improving project delivery, providing for greater accountability, and assisting project sponsors with more financing options. But we have yet to address the demands of an increasingly metropolitan American economy and the calls from local officials who seek greater empowerment in deciding how transportation dollars are invested.
We must strive to get all partners - federal, state, regional, local governments, private entities and the public - to the transportation decision-making table, instead of pretending that concentrating power with state transportation bureaucracies is the solution, especially in a nation which continues to concentrate more of its economic future in its metropolitan areas.
In Atlanta, our principal transit system - MARTA - is the ninth largest in the country, and our highway system is one of the best-maintained in the nation. There is no dearth of ideas and innovation for dealing with the challenges of growth and transportation in Atlanta, yet we continue to have some of the most significant congestion in the nation - largely because of a mismatch of resources to our needs.
The Atlanta Regional Commission just released recommendations for an update of our Regional Transportation Plan. The vision outlined in those recommendations would cost $123 billion to the year 2040 - yet we have available only about $59 billion during that period. An overwhelming 71% of all available funds will go to the maintenance of the existing system.
As a region, we will target our projects more carefully. Emphasis will be placed on travel demand management programs, basic bridge and road maintenance, safety projects, innovation in roadway design and cost-effective transit projects. We will focus our investments on our regional freight network, which will become even more important as international freight increases through the Port of Savannah.
Cities are the country's laboratories for innovation. Cities are where public and private entities collaborate on the ground level to create jobs and build places people want to live. In Atlanta, one of the most prominent examples of how we have taken a proactive approach to build for the future and attract investment and jobs is the Atlanta BeltLine.
The Atlanta BeltLine will create 22 miles of new light rail/modern streetcar transit, 33 miles of multi-use trails, 1,300 acres of new and improved parks. Since the beginning of the Atlanta BeltLine in 2006, we have invested more than $360 million from public and private sources, which has generated more than $1 billion in new private real estate development for a roughly three-to-one return on investment.
I believe that Atlanta has been particularly innovative in its approach to transportation. We have envisioned our city as a vibrant place for education, work and living. We have developed ideas for a supporting transportation system - inclusive of all modes - and connecting to our regional neighbors. We have aggressively sought and responsibly used resources from local, state, federal and private partners to preserve and expand our mobility and access.
Atlanta is not unique though. Other cities throughout the country have their own versions of vision and innovation. Other cities also have challenges in maintaining what they have and building what they need. Other cities are developing partnerships to reshape their communities and transportation systems.
I believe the future of solving much of our nation's transportation problems lies within the vision and leadership we find in our cities. Providing the resources and decision-making authority increasingly to cities and their regions will yield enormous benefits not only to the nation's mobility but to the returning health of our nation's economy.
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