By David Sher
My wife and I just got back from a trip to Atlanta to visit our son and family.
Oh! The traffic.
Just shoot me!
Not even rush hour traffic—this was the weekend.
Where is the quality of life in that?
And Atlanta’s about to get worse…much worse.
Atlanta’s current metropolitan population is about 5.7 million and is projected to grow by 2.9 million in the next 27 years–that’s another 50%.
That would give metro Atlanta 8.6 million people by 2050.
To put this in perspective, metropolitan Birmingham’s population is 1.1 million.
If Atlanta’s population estimates are close to accurate that would be the equivalent to the entire Birmingham metro moving to Atlanta not once, but two and half times.
Metropolitan Atlanta would then be almost eight times larger than the current population of metropolitan Birmingham.
Atlanta’s exponential growth might have been okay if Atlanta had given any thought to public transportation. But public transportation is severely limited in greater Atlanta. Of the five Metropolitan counties (Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Cobb, and Gwinnett), only two, Fulton and DeKalb, voted in favor of MARTA
According to the 2021 Global Traffic Scorecard, Atlanta traffic is the 10th worst in the United States. It’s estimated that the average Atlanta driver loses 53 hours to congestion each year, with a cost per driver of $820.
These numbers are down from previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic—but those of you who have driven in Atlanta recently know the traffic count is back up and growing.
And, of course, these traffic numbers don’t include the additional 2.9 million people predicted to swell Atlanta’s population.
This unbridled growth creates the perfect opportunity for Birmingham.
Birmingham is still known as the ’20 minute city.’ because you can get to just about anywhere in about 20 minutes or less.
What a great opportunity for Birmingham to take advantage of Atlanta’s Achilles Heel.
Jennifer Greer, an advocate for high speed rail, wrote for ComebackTown, “Birmingham’s high speed rail hopes were raised in 2020 by a pitch to the city about a privately-led proposal, I-20X High Speed Rail, which describes intercity passenger rail service connecting Atlanta, GA, Birmingham, AL, Jackson, MS, Shreveport LA, and Dallas, TX…High-tech trains would run on elevated tracks at speeds of 200 miles per hour.
“Such a service would cut car travel times between… Birmingham and Atlanta from 2.5 hours to a little over 1 hour.” Amtrak service between Birmingham and Atlanta currently takes 4 ½ hours.”
A high speed rail commute to Atlanta would be shorter from Birmingham than from many parts of suburban Atlanta.
In 2019, over 20% of Atlanta commuters traveled 90 minutes or more to get to work each day and that number is rising.
Now’s the time for Birmingham area to prepare for Atlanta’s gridlock.
We could provide high speed rail or some other form of transportation to transport people from one city to the other.
We could offer the best of both worlds: the advantages of living in a stable, beautiful, and welcoming community while taking advantage of the opportunities of working in a large neighboring city.
When I was a child, Atlanta and Birmingham were about the same size.
I stayed in Birmingham and I feel like I won the lottery.
It was pure joy raising my family in Birmingham.
Sometimes you just get lucky.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
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