March 30, 2009
Megaregion Forum Held in Atlanta; Georgia Tech Hosts
By SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor
A megaregion is defined as large networks of metropolitan centers and their surrounding areas tied together by economic, environmental, and infrastructure relationships. The Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion (PAM)—one of the fastest-growing megaregions in the country—comprises the entirety or parts of six states in the southeastern United States, running from Birmingham, AL, through Atlanta, GA, to Raleigh-Durham, NC.
On March 23, a forum sponsored in part by the Regional Plan Association (RPA) and America 2050, a national initiative to promote the creation of a national development strategy and infrastructure plan, convened at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center in Atlanta. Titled “The Case for a National Infrastructure Policy: The Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion in the Global Economy,” the forum was the third in a series being conducted across the country to build support for America 2050.
Speakers at the forum included APTA Chair Dr. Beverly A. Scott; APTA President William W. Millar; Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR); John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; Mort Downey, president of Mort Downey Consulting LLC; and RPA President Robert Yaro.
“As a nation we are facing big challenges and big changes,” said Millar, “and here in the Piedmont/Mid-Atlantic megaregion, you are facing big challenges as well. Working together, you can make a difference. Expanded travel options through enhanced and improved public transportation and high-speed and intercity passenger rail can help make that difference.”
Keynote speeches and panel topics included “The National Context for Infrastructure Investment,” “The Case for a National Infrastructure Policy,” “Transportation—Connecting PAM through Ground, Air, and Water,” and “Next Steps ... Where do we go from here?”
Scott noted that the PAM lacks a coherent policy vision and desperately needs a major investment. “We’ve outgrown our current transit system,” she said, “so we must reorganize how we move people and goods in order to ensure prosperity in the future.”
“I think the forum was very successful because we had a high-level audience of policymakers and business leaders and academics who really had a chance to discuss priorities, identify next steps, and work together,” said Petra Todorovich, director, America 2050. “There was also a sense that the Piedmont Atlanta Megaregion has to engage with the federal government with all that’s going on now—stimulus plan, authorization, budget. If PAM can identify its priorities and plan together as a region, they stand to benefit more from federal dollars and federal support,” she added.
Attendees commented on the strong degree of agreement on strategy and commonalities articulated by a range of presenters.
“I thought it was very striking that elected political leadership, in addition to persons who head professional organizations, were all on the same page with regard to the need to invest strategically and in seeing a new role for transportation and infrastructure in a way we haven’t contemplated ever in this country,” said Dr. Catherine Ross, Harry West chair and director, Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development, at Georgia Tech, who delivered the opening remarks. She noted that this megaregion forum was a “new era” in transportation planning, adding: “President Obama gets it, he gets it. He knows that it’s working in a direction that reduces energy dependence.”
Ross, who has a new book coming out soon titled Megaregions: Planning for Global Competitiveness, deemed the all-day session “instructive and effective—and very forward-looking.”