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OUR VIEW: Some issues in need of a regional fix

Those on the Gwinnett Chamber’s Strategic Leadership Visit to Chicago last week brought home a lot of ideas and information. The trip shuttled 74 or so Gwinnettians all over the windy city, from Chicago City Hall to the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Tech Park to the suburb of Naperville.

The troop was exposed to Chicagoland’s “best practices” in education, government, transportation, business, arts, etc.

Many ideas flew home with the group, but a primary lesson is that a lot of Chicago’s successes are credited to cooperation. Yes, despite a headstrong mayor and a dysfunctional alderman system, Chicago has found ways to collaborate.

The shining example is the Regional Transportation Authority. One of the largest public transportation systems in the world actually is the melding of three individual entities — the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra Commuter Rail and Pace suburban bus system.

The RTA first connected city and suburban transportation systems in 1974. It hasn’t been easy and the plan has required a couple modifications. But with everyone pulling together, the RTA now covers 7,200 route miles in six counties and gives more than 2 million riders a lift each day. The result is a commute that makes Chicago work. By comparison, metro Atlanta has about half the population of metro Chicago, but MARTA transports only a quarter of the riders.

The RTA has authority over planning, project prioritization and resource allocation, but each individual bus and rail system handles its finances separately.

What lesson does this teach for metro Atlanta? The city has MARTA, GRETA and the Atlanta Regional Commission, and there are bus systems in the suburbs. What’s missing here is the ingredient that holds it all together — cooperation.

While Atlanta politicians and pundits have been extolling the benefits of collaboration, the message isn’t being heard — or at least acted on. Transit systems connect but for the most part remain disjointed.

This lesson in cooperation not only applies to transportation. The water shortage is another issue that cries for a regional approach.

Often you need to improve the view by taking a step back and getting a good look at the whole picture.