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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Millennial's argument for the T-SPLOST

Saba Long is a downtown Atlanta resident, serves on the board of Neighborhood Planning Unit M, and is a spokeswoman for Citizens for Transportation Mobility, the business community's campaign to pass the July 31 regional transportation tax referendum. Long, like many Millennials, uses transit to move around the city and wants more options. If they can't find those options in metro Atlanta, she says, they'll look elsewhere. Her views below are her own as a Fulton County resident and do not necessarily reflect those of CTM.

I don't own a car. In fact, I'm among the 26 percent of America's 14- to 34-year-olds who don't even have a driver's license, a number that has increased from 21 percent in recent years.

I take transit everywhere, or walk. And I'm not alone: There are hundreds of thousands of "Millennials," as our age group is called, in metro Atlanta with commuting preferences distinctly different from our parents'. When metro leaders are considering long-range transportation planning, such as the July 31 transportation vote, they ought to keep us in mind. Because if they fail to create a metro Atlanta where there are transportation options — bus, rail, bike paths and pedestrian access as well as roads — we Millennials will take our education and skills and talents to create jobs and businesses elsewhere.

Many Baby Boomers and older Atlantans are opposing this transportation referendum because it does not do enough for them. They've forgotten, conveniently, that their parents paid taxes to build a transportation system that has driven their prosperity — and it is their obligation to do the same next generations. It's as if they are stuck in time. They argue that the BeltLine is a boondoggle, oblivious that it is exactly the kind of transportation Millennials want and will demand.

John Sherman of the Fulton County Taxpayers Association recently argued that the project list has too much transit, stating again that only 5 percent of commuters in the region use transit. But Sherman seems blind to the preferences of a younger generation that will benefit most from these projects. He ignores that the average number of vehicle miles traveled by 16- to 34-year-olds dropped 23 percent between 2001 and 2009, according to the National Household Travel Survey.

He seems unaware that the number of miles traveled by transit has increased 40 percent among our age group. While we don't expect for Sherman, an octogenarian, to be attuned to our commuting preferences, we expect for leaders to think and act and invest long-term. And considering the years it takes to build transportation projects, long-range is the only way we should be planning.

We see the same shortsightedness of our parents' and grandparents' generation when they complain that the tax may not sunset in 10 years as promised, or that some of the projects may not be finished in 10 years. Again, they're thinking about themselves, and not about their children. In 10 years, today's eight-year-olds will be able to vote on whether they'd like to extend this referendum to incorporate their transportation needs.

Past generations of Americans made investments for the nation's future prosperity. Unfortunately, many of today's T-SPLOST opponents are thinking only of themselves, with little to no regard for the future. "Another tax won't help YOUR traffic jam," says the tag line on Traffic Truth, a site opposed to the transportation referendum. They're all about "me" and "mine." It is emblematic of the collective national mindset that saddled future generations with trillions of dollars in debt: A mindset that says let's focus on US, and let future generations pay for it.

It's time for the John Sherman and the Baby Boomer generation to engage in a little forward-looking, and by doing so maybe they can see why the Beltline is important, why transit is important, and why the July 31 regional transportation referendum is a balance of transportation improvements that helps everyone now and into the future.

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