By Leonardo McClarty
The Great Recession has hit DeKalb County with a vengeance.
Thousands of residents are out of work, four years after the onslaught on the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.
Home values are under water throughout the county. And there are those, unbelievably, who think we should turn our backs on a $1.1 billion investment in our county.
Such opposition to the July 31 transportation referendum is questionable. Most of the opposition is rooted in emotion and anger.
There is anger that South DeKalb will not receive a rail line to Stonecrest Mall. There is emotion that our county is being asked to pay for a second penny for transportation when it has already paid the MARTA tax for three decades.
I understand the opposition. But the opportunity before us is too great to turn our backs on.
DeKalb citizens should Vote Yes on July 31 for the transportation referendum. The referendum will put thousands of DeKalb citizens back to work and pump tens of millions of dollars into our local economy. It will help restore our home values.
It will make us competitive with other regions that are vying to take away our businesses and jobs. And it will give us the beginning of a world-class transportation system that will sustain our region for years to come and create a better DeKalb for our children and grandchildren.
It will also give us a shot at the rail line to Stonecrest Mall that has long been hoped for. The referendum contains $225 million for bus rapid transit – a down payment on rail that, with federal matching funds, could help get that project off the ground.
Going to Washington empty-handed, however, without the $225 million, almost guarantees our inability to leverage federal funds for the project.
It also includes $700 million for rail to the Clifton Corridor.
The corridor contains some of the largest and most important employers in metro Atlanta, including Emory University and Emory Hospital, the Centers for Disease Control, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston and others. With rail, the Clifton Corridor grows in regional importance, attracting even more businesses and jobs.
The July 31 referendum will also bring many improvements to existing roads and bridges throughout DeKalb.
Finally, the project will generate more than $100 million for discretionary projects that will help improve our existing transportation system with more sidewalks, bike paths and traffic synchronization.
The July 31 referendum is the first time ever that our region will vote as a region.
Unlike the MARTA vote decades ago, none of the 10 counties in our region can “opt out” of the transportation investment. That means that if the vote prevails, all counties in the metro area for first time will provide some support to MARTA.
It also means that there will be significant transportation investments throughout our region, and those too help and support DeKalb citizens, because so many of our residents commute to neighboring counties to work.
So a Yes Vote helps us in three ways: With improvements to DeKalb, improvements to the county where we commute, and regional improvements that help untie traffic knots throughout metro Atlanta.
I understand the opposition. But we must vote on our pocketbooks and the future of our county and region, not on emotion.
DeKalb commuters are losing millions each year in wasted fuel and lost time due to traffic congestion. Investing in transportation will help us wipe out that “congestion tax,” while showing the nation and the world that we’re serious about tackling our greatest impediment to growth and becoming competitive with other regions.
For more jobs, increased home values and the ability to move around more freely, I strongly urge DeKalb citizens to Vote Yes for transportation on July 31.
Leonardo McClarty is the president of DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.