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Fork in the road 

Where will Atlanta be when it comes to transportation?

What do you want, Atlanta?

Five or 20 years from now, do you really want to be stuck on a highway in a hellhole where the air makes you sick, where every sign of nature has been blotted out for a highway, a subdivision or a shopping center?

Or do you want to live in a, well, livable city, with a fun, sophisticated, walkable urban core surrounded by cozy, village-like suburbs -- where, yeah, the traffic's still bad, but at least you'd have the option to get around by train, trolley, bicycle or your own two feet?

When we argue around these parts about a roads-only approach to transportation versus a more balanced vision, those are the two futures we're talking about. And when you strip the question to its core, it's pretty clear how most folks would answer.

For eight years or so, metro Atlanta has been heading unsurely in the right direction. But we've moved so slowly that we risk falling into reverse. Suburban bus systems, HOV lanes, the Beltline, and most of all, the repopulating of inner-city neighborhoods all hold out some promise that metro Atlanta can become a cleaner, more comfortable, more uplifting place to live over the next decade.

Now, however, comes an attempt to restore the corrupt system that did so much to harm Atlanta's quality of life in the first place. As Max Pizarro reports this week, highway builders and their fellow travelers are proposing a roads-only future that downplays the impact those roads will have on the air we breathe.

Make no mistake: The roads-only approach has little to do with battling traffic. It's a desperate ploy by special interests used to profiting at the public trough. But every dollar steered into sweetheart contracts for private toll roads is a diversion from transit alternatives, cleaner air and a better quality of life.

Our leaders have disappointed us so often that many don't believe the region is capable of anything but sprawl, gridlock and unhealthy air. In his column this week, John Sugg argues that we need a bigger vision and stronger leadership to push true solutions. I'd add that baby steps are better than nothing, but I agree that we should dream bigger dreams and expect more of our leaders.

Atlanta's transportation future will be the subject of Creative Loafing's Political Party talk show at Dad's Garage, 8 p.m., Dec. 13. Some of those leaders will join us. If you care about this issue, you should, too.

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