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Look to The Past for Transportation’s Future

In the upcoming T-SPLOST vote, the past provides us the best measure of the future, and two examples from history illustrate what can be expected from either outcome in this election.

We face a historic decision on transportation that people will talk about for decades to come. In many ways it will define our legacy.

History provides two examples of just such decisions and how those tasked with making them are remembered.

The first is the Atlanta Airport.  Investment in an “air port” seems obvious today but in 1925, it was radical. Seven years after the WWI, there was no commercially viable use for the airplane.

With weight being the limiting factor, mail delivery was the obvious first step; yet, that had failed six years earlier despite the investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars (millions in today’s economy) and dozens of lives.

In fact, it would take another 17 months after Atlanta leased a defunct automobile race track located well outside the city as a municipal airport before another attempt at airmail would be made. It failed in just three months.

Undeterred, Atlanta invested even more money installing state-of-the-art electric lighting and the exotic new electrical infrastructure to power it, all to accommodate night operations when, and if, commercial aviation ever became feasible – something it had not done in daylight.

It took 18 months for a third attempt to be made. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce led an all-out campaign to garner support from the city council and mayor to buy the land outright and build additional facilities to support the fledgling private endeavor that now stood teetering precariously at the edge of the nest.

With less than a year of air mail service under its belt, Atlanta invested the staggering sum of nearly a half-million additional dollars to buy and upgrade the port facilities that they hoped would one day support the futuristic dream of commercial transportation through the very air itself.

We’ve patted ourselves on the back – and rightly so - ever since for our vision, our faith in ourselves and in the future, and our shrewd investment in an economic engine for the entire region.

The second example comes from the Downtown Connector. By the 1920s, Atlanta’s traffic was a chronic and stifling drag on the city. In 1946, we finally adopted the Lochner Plan. Its centerpiece was a hub-and-spoke unit of four short, limited-access highways radiating just a couple of miles from the central business district to relieve traffic congestion on surface streets.

Ten years later, the federal government provided the funding mechanism for interstate highways.  While the funding was new, the plans were almost a generation old, and they were going to be a boon to Atlanta.

The two main north-south Interstates east of the Mississippi, I-75 west of the Appalachians and I-85 to their east, would both come through Atlanta.  Finally Atlanta wouldn’t have to fight for its claim to legitimacy as a first-rate center of commerce.  Yet the city that had always managed to unite – especially where economic advancement was at stake – turned on itself.

As the years passed, not a single proposed route for these Interstates could gain approval. Finally, in desperation, the city was forced into a decision that was doomed to failure from the very start.  The two main eastern Interstates would simply have to merge, supplanting the already outdated limited-access highways of the old Lochner Plan.

The downtown connector was born . . . and we’ve been kicking ourselves for the last 50 years.

Our choice on July 31 is whether future generations will look at us and say, “Thank goodness they had the vision and guts to seize these opportunities, overcome the obstacles and make the tough decisions for our future” just like we do with the airport.

Or will they look at us and ask, “Why didn’t they do something about this when they had the chance? Why did they leave it to us to solve when it’s so much harder now? What happened to their vision, their faith and their courage?”

It’s easy to point out flaws, to tear things down, but those reasons always fade quickly to insignificance and, if remembered at all, are written in history as mere excuses for possibilities lost. In the future, we will have to live with success or failure, and to do nothing is the worst kind of failure.  Instead, I urge the people of this vast 10-county region to look to the past for the inspiration to meet the challenges of the future with courage, vision, and faith in ourselves, just as an earlier generation did with an idea as outlandish as commercial aviation.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bryan Farley July 26, 2012 at 10:09 AM
Mom, while I like a lot of your ideas (actually all of them I like) they will never pass. To many backwards thinking folks that are scared of public transit and don't want the "element" to come to their area.
Bryan Farley July 26, 2012 at 10:11 AM
An all rail/transit SPLOST or an all road SPLOST will never pass. We have a balance of the two and all you get is people complaining about what "they" aren't getting. Everyone is looking for a better plan but they are only thinking it will be better because they get what THEY want. We will never come up with a perfect plan to satisfy everyone, and even if we did with the "Plan B" it would be so expensive that it would probably require a 3% tax for 30 years! Then we'll hear "I don't want anymore taxes, it will not get voted in, and then we'll be right back trying to come up with ANOTHER plan all while we sit and do nothing at all about our current situation, that will only get worse!
Jeffrey Allen July 26, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Two "historic" projects that somehow didn't make the author's list that need to be discussed...THe Ga 400 Toll Lies-uhImean-Lanes, and the ridiculous I-85 H.O.T. lanes The trust factor is huge in this referendum. There are a myriad of legitimate reasons to not trust the DOT with this money. Obviously, the Ga 400 toll is reason #1. In recent days, we have been offered yet another promise to close the toll booths. While I believe that Gov. Deal is sincere in his attempt, as of yet it is just another as-yet unfulfilled promise in a decades long line of unfulfilled promises. This one cannot be fulfilled until well after the July 31 vote. How very convenient for the proponents. Forgive me for being prudent when I say that I'll believe that one when I see it. Too little, to late to sway my vote this go round. Of course there is to boondoggle to the northeast, the H.O.T. lanes in Gwinnett. Toll Lanes nonwithstanding, one has to concede the traffic benefits of the 400 extension. It actually does what it is supposed to do...alleviate traffic into the city. Can anyone say with a straight face that the H.O.T. lanes have done anything but make traffic significantly worse? By it's very design, the only way for the special lane to worki s for the rest of them to become hopelessly clogged. As an added bonus, now all the surface streets in the area of I-85 get jammed up too! Brilliant! It's a well informed "NO" vote here...
Kim July 26, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Today I listened to how the TSPLOST commercials are trying harder to confuse the voting public. They are now condemning the TSPLOST agenda themselves and saying that we need to "re-think" the projects but vote yes so they can do that?? Hopefully the voting public knows that those porkful "projects" cannot be changed once it is voted in. If the DOT, TSPLOST supporters and Mayor Reed would put as much effort into coming up with a REAL plan instead of trying to blow smoke and use mirrors to hide their inadequate agendas, then maybe the citizens of Georgia would be able to support them. In this case, It’s a NO WIN for Georgia Citizens. If you have ever driven on any of our Georgia roads, you know that traffic exists. If you want to continue having your Highway lanes paid for with your hard earned tax money only to be HI-JACKED by the government as HOT LANES where you have to PAY AGAIN AND AGAIN TO RIDE ON THEM, then voting YES will CONTINE this "highway robbery". Be smart. Know that this is not the plan for Atlanta, and because we do not accept the current offering for this vote, they will have to come up with a viable and workable effort that will actually impact our traffic and not our wallets.
Steve July 26, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Tom C, seems your excellent example of some "pork" in the plan has been completely ignored by the supporters of this doomed plan.

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