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Panelists: If Atlanta’s population booms as expected, we might be screwed

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At event, city’s lead planner and others emphasize need for better mobility right now.

A postcard of smallish Atlanta in the 1960s.
A postcard of Atlanta in the 1960s. With this in mind, imagine 50 years hence.
Atlanta Time Machine

Throughout the years, various scribes on these pages have pointed to Atlanta’s regular weekend traffic jams as evidence that something is really—and perhaps irrevocably—wrong ‘round here.

But Sunday afternoon cluster-you-know-whats on The Connector might be the tip of a problematic iceberg, regarding mobility and other key issues, that could Titanic this boomtown in coming years if not addressed.

At least that’s the consensus of a panel discussion organized by Bisnow this week that provided some thought-provoking insights.

Atlanta’s growth outlook is either exciting or grim, depending on perspective. According to recent projections by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the metro’s population should surge to about 9 million in the next 30 years, leapfrogging larger metros of today such as Philadelphia and Washington D.C. That’d make Atlanta the nation’s sixth largest metro, trailing only New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and slow-growing Chicago.

The City of Atlanta itself is expected to swell from less than 12 million to upwards of 1.2 million residents in roughly the next decade, said planning commissioner Tim Keane at the Bisnow event. (That estimate seems generous, given that Atlanta proper packed on 10,000 people last year, but maybe it’s better to be over-prepared).

Midtown, in March.
Curbed Atlanta

Keane joined Cumberland CID Executive Director Malaika Rivers and developers in saying that failure to enhance MARTA and other alternate transportation options (along with affordability) could cripple the city’s growth.

Voter-approved sales tax boosts for transportation right now “are fundamentally important, because Atlanta can't build any more roads,” Keane said, per Bisnow.

Of course, Atlanta’s transportation crisis—that’s not hyperbole when 20 lanes of interstate in the center of town are subjected to perpetual weekday rush hour—extends beyond the city limits.

Some believe extending MARTA into the suburbs is a crucial remedy.

Panelist Mike Sivewright, JLL Market Director for Atlanta, chimed in that Cobb County’s government needs to realize that. “We need to figure how to get MARTA from the inner core to the northwest,” he said.