The following op ed was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on November 27, 2012.
By Kasim Reed
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln pushed forward with building the transcontinental railroad, which helped unite and rebuild America. In the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the interstate highway system. A few years later, President John F. Kennedy inspired a generation when he challenged us with the goal of landing a man on the moon and surpassing Russia in space exploration.
America’s greatest leaders have always put patriotism before politics to invest in our nation’s infrastructure and technology. More often than not, the timing is less than ideal, and the expense may seem hard to bear, but these initiatives have helped make our nation the greatest in the world. We must continue that tradition to ensure America’s future competitiveness. Investing in ports, roads, bridges and airports have consistently enjoyed overwhelming Democratic and Republican support. President Barack Obama’s July signing of House Resolution 4348, a comprehensive transportation infrastructure bill, was another critical step in the right direction.
Closer to home, the recent certificate of decision for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will contribute greatly to the growth of one of our state’s most important and dynamic job-generators. The Port of Savannah is the fastest-growing and fourth-largest U.S. container port. In Atlanta, Hartsfield-Jackson is the world’s busiest passenger airport, with more than 92 million travelers last year and a growing air cargo capability. These two assets provide Georgia with an undeniable advantage in the global marketplace at a time when many of our fiercest competitors are not in another state, but on another continent.
Imagine, then, if the state’s two most important logistics hubs were linked by high-speed rail. The argument for this goal is a powerful one, as leading cities in the world have strong sea and air logistics capability. Additionally, the possibility of leaving work at 5 p.m. and being on the Georgia coast by 6:30 p.m. is equally compelling. High-speed rail between Atlanta and Savannah also would strike a powerful blow to the critique that there are “Two Georgias.” Finally, it is an inspiring idea, one that dares us to think and prepare for a future with multiple economic centers within the state. These are the kinds of debates worth having, and many communities around the nation are embracing and championing these kinds of plans.
As President Bill Clinton says, we have to be in the future business. I recently joined him and a group of elected officials and policy experts in Pocantico, N.Y., to exchange information about the development of infrastructure banks and ways to use public-private partnerships to secure funds at very low interest rates without overburdening taxpayers.
The Atlanta Beltline, a local project discussed during that meeting, exemplifies exactly this type of forward-thinking vision around infrastructure. More than $41 million for the project has been raised through private philanthropy. Special tax allocation district funds, designed to foster smart development in city neighborhoods, along with other local bond sources and federal funding have helped make up the difference. To date, this investment has attracted more than $750 million in new private development in many of the city’s most vital neighborhoods.
In a recent local referendum, voters made it clear they won’t accept any new taxes unless they are confident government can deliver concrete results in an open, fair and transparent fashion. Public-private partnerships and the development of an infrastructure bank that provides low-interest loans to states and municipalities are tools that should be deployed.
It is incumbent on today’s leaders to develop common-sense approaches to improve our region’s infrastructure in a manner that creates new jobs, retains the jobs we have, and safeguards taxpayer dollars. We also need to follow the example of our nation’s greatest leaders and undertake bold, transformative projects that make our city, state and nation stronger now and in the future.