LAWRENCEVILLE - Metro area transportation and air quality issues met Tuesday as the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce welcomed the Clean Air Campaign and its director to an environmental and transportation forum.
The one-hour talk by Kevin Green touted the organization's many successes in mitigating air pollution and traffic congestion while also serving as a reminder for some of the regional challenges that lie ahead.
"Our region is growing at about two-and-a-half times the national average right now and in many ways, we're the victim of our own success," Green said. "We've added more people than any other region except Los Angeles, New York City and Dallas since 2000. And half of that growth is from the people already here."
Green went on to say that while statistics point to a significant population increase over the next 25 years - 35.2 to 48.2 percent between 2006 and 2030 - this comes despite the fact that transportation funding is headed downward at both the federal and state levels.
"It's very difficult to keep up in terms of building new transportation infrastructure," he said. "And this is a substantial challenge for Georgia."
He specifically mentioned the shrinking federal highway trust fund whose revenue stream comes from gasoline taxes and the state's budget woes as possible reasons that would explain the decline. He also said this scenario might explain why special purpose local options sales taxes have been repeatedly approved in Gwinnett.
"The federal government has traditionally been a very large funder of transportation and we know we have severe challenges in terms of our economy and the priorities at the federal level," Green said. "And regardless of your philosophical approach to taxes, it's (SPLOST) counties basically just looking to exercise more control over their own destiny. And I think you'll see more of this coming from local governments rather than waiting on the feds and the states to get it all figured out."
Green said since transportation infrastructure investments are declining, that's where Clean Air comes into the mix. He said the nonprofit group tries to come up with solutions for the private and public sectors so that they can reduce travel times for their employees during peak demand hours - aka the morning and evening rushes.
Along these lines, he pointed to 150 companies in Gwinnett working with Clean Air either in the capacity of having car and vanpool programs, telework programs, flexible work schedules or compressed work week programs. He said these ideas, if not embraced by employers now, might be the way of the future.
"There was a futurist who came into town a year or so ago and he said, 'In the 21st century fewer people will be content to drive an hour to get from one computer screen to the next.' That captured a lot," Green said.
James Dee of Duluth's Print Sense Inc. was one of the roughly 30 people in attendance. Now in the midst of getting a green initiative off the ground in Gwinnett called GIGA (Green in Gwinnett Area), he enjoyed the Clean Air talk and learning what it has been doing to improve the area.
"I thought it was fantastic and I see there is definitely progress," Dee said. "Half of the stuff I didn't even know they were doing. Now it's just a matter of getting really good partners and programs together so that we can help them spread the word."