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‘Transportation Investment Act key for Atlanta’s progress’

Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz
Rick Pelc (from left), of Southwest Airlines; Louis Miller of Hartsfield-Jackson; David Kent, of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and Justin Clay, of NCR, listen to Barbra Coffee, College Park economic development director, moderate their panel discussion.

Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz Rick Pelc (from left), of Southwest Airlines; Louis Miller of Hartsfield-Jackson; David Kent, of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and Justin Clay, of NCR, listen to Barbra Coffee, College Park economic development director, moderate their panel discussion.

It was a mesh of business professionals and local government officials networking and listening to panel discussions, during a conference at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.

The Transportation Investment Act was the featured discussion during the “South Metro Development Outlook” conference on Thursday, where board members of the Atlanta Regional Commission discussed why voters should pass the act on July 31.

The panel members included: Eldrin Bell, Clayton County Commission Chairman; Elizabeth “B.J.” Mathis, Henry County Commission Chairman; John Eaves, Fulton County Commission Chairman, and Tom Worthan, Douglas County Commission Chairman.

“There is no plan B,” said Henry County’s Mathis. “If this fails, I see this whole region declining and going backwards.”

If the act is approved by metro-area voters, a 1-percent sales tax will raise $7.22 billion over a 10-year time span, according to MAVEN officials. MAVEN is composed of civic coalitions, business organizations and citizens concerned about Atlanta’s transportation issues.

Of that amount, added Mathis, 15 percent, or $1.08 billion, will be assigned to every city and county within the region. “We will have the 15 percent that will be coming back to you,” she assured.

Officials said the counties within the region include Clayton, Henry, Fulton, Fayette, Rockdale, DeKalb, Douglas, Cobb, Gwinnett and Cherokee.

This money can only be used for designated transportation purposes, such as for repaving roads, adding lanes, fixing potholes, improving sidewalks, public transit, and the like. The amount of money that will be distributed to each county is based on population and lane miles.

Clayton County is expected to receive a total of about $313 million. The money will benefit the municipalities and unincorporated areas of the county.

Henry County will receive a total of $183.5 million. Mathis said Henry is a logistics hub, and it is important for roads to remain open for the freight that moves in and out of the county. If the growing, congested traffic becomes an inconvenience for the various logistics businesses in the county, they may take their business elsewhere. “Not only will it affect Henry, but the surrounding counties as well,” she said.

Clayton’s Bell mentioned his experience three years ago, when he first met with ARC board members. “When I walked in the room, you [could] cut the emotion with a knife,” he said. “I could see it.”

He said, eventually, the tense atmosphere shifted and the board worked hard to get a plan adopted for the region’s troublesome transportation system. Instead of county leaders competing against each other, they worked as a team and defined themselves as a region, he said.

“This has now become more important than an individual county,” said Bell.

Another panel discussion touched on investing in the south-metro-Atlanta area. The speakers included: David Kent, senior vice president of operations for Cancer Treatment Centers of America; Louis Miller, aviation general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; Rick Pelc, general manager of Southwest Airlines, and Justin Clay, manager of state and local government relations in North America for NCR.

Aviation General Manager Miller said the airport’s Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal is on schedule to open this spring. “I think it is going to be huge,” he said. “Companies are going to relocate to the Atlanta area because of the opportunities for travel.”

Motorists will soon see new signage that will direct them to the international terminal, which is part of a $10 million roadway signage package, he said. This includes signs on interstates, state routes and surface streets.

Southwest’s Pelc educated audience members about the airline, and the benefits it will provide for travelers and employees. He said employees are No. 1 at the airline, and that trickles down to excellent customer service for travelers. He reminded those in attendance of Southwest’s start date for nonstop flight services to and from Atlanta –– this Sunday, Feb. 12.

Southwest and AirTran Airways “will be running as two separate brands for some period of time,” he said. “As we convert more aircraft, you will see brand changes ... down the road.”

Both Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Kent, and NCR’s Clay, agreed that south metro Atlanta has a lot to offer, and a marketing strategy for the entire Southern Crescent may help attract more businesses to the area.

Kent said his business is located in Newnan, because of its close proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson. “It’s easier for patients to [drive] south than north [of Atlanta],” he said.