Opinions and Speeches

Friday, March 4, 2005 -

Don't let Atlanta miss the train

March 4, 2005

Don't let Atlanta miss the train
By U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
(As appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle)

In the last 25 years, the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia have led the way for extraordinary economic success and growth across the New South. This growth, however, has also come at a cost. As victims of our own success, we have seen relentless traffic congestion not just in metro Atlanta but also in other metropolitan areas around the Southeast.

As Georgia's senator on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over clean air and surface transportation issues, I believe the time has come to consider high-speed rail throughout the Southeast as an innovative way to connect our cities without increasing the burden on our interstates and airports. High-speed rail will complement the Southeast's existing transportation infrastructure, reduce congestion on the interstates between the region's economic centers and increase our competitiveness around the world.

This is not an idea that is new to the Southeast's business community or policymakers. In 2000, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce founded the Southeastern Economic Alliance -- a coalition of 15 chambers of commerce in cities across six states, including Macon , Savannah , Chattanooga and Birmingham -- to advocate for high-speed rail throughout the region. This alliance developed a business model that caters to travelers and builds on sound business principles.

In 2003, I led a coalition of 25 of my colleagues in other Southern states, including fellow freshmen Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., to obtain support for rail studies and economic forecasts for such a system.

Work is already under way in some areas of the Southeast. The Federal Railroad Administration issued a record of decision confirming the planned high-speed route between Charlotte and Washington , D.C. , and North Carolina has spent more than $200 million to develop that route. Linking the nation's second-largest financial center to the nation's capital with high-speed rail will only enhance both these cities. Atlanta and Georgia , as the capitals of the New South, must begin work now to become connected to these operations in the future.

But Amtrak's crisis only underscores the opportunity we have to reform the rail model and provide better mobility across our dynamically growing region. Atlanta and Georgia must leverage this momentum and support this vision so that the train doesn't leave without us.

Isakson was sworn in to the U.S. Senate in January after serving three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.