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Atlanta leaders look for answers in Texas

Leaders of the Big Peach are taking a look at how things get done in the Big D.

Metro Atlanta civic and political leaders head to Texas this week to see how the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex handles the challenges of growth, economic development, congestion and schools.

The 20th Atlanta Regional Commission LINK trip will be a return visit to a city Atlanta delegates first visited in the late 1990s. In that time, the Dallas area has rapidly expanded its transit system. North Texas also has embarked on an ambitious toll road network.

“Many see Charlotte as our top competitor, but it really is Dallas,” said Doug Hooker, the ARC’s executive director. Atlanta competes with Dallas not only for major corporate expansions but also in the race for young professionals, he said.

More than 100 key metro Atlanta political, business, transportation, economic development and philanthropic leaders will attend. The delegation will leave Wednesday and return Saturday.

The annual visits, largely funded by private sponsors, has generated ideas such as the 2012 transportation sales tax effort. Though that effort failed in metro Atlanta, subsequent bills have allowed counties to buddy up for transportation funding. And this year, a bill passed to allow Atlanta residents to decide if they will add a half-penny sales tax to expand MARTA.

Last year, the LINK participants went to Toronto to see how Canada’s biggest city handles similar issues. This year, the trip to Texas will have more similarities to home — a Southern, red state that’s also fast-growing with few geographic boundaries to contain that growth.

Dallas is larger than Atlanta, and also didn’t go as deeply into recession Georgia’s largest metro did.

This year’s trip will include visits to the urban core and the region’s fast-growing suburbs and ambitious development projects. These will include Klyde Warren Park, a “deck park” built over a busy freeway, Parkland Hospital and the revitalization of the Trinity River.

Since 1999, when Atlanta last visited Dallas, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has expanded its light rail network from about 20 miles to more than 90 miles, according to the ARC. It’s also expanded commuter rail to far-flung suburbs.

“Coming back 17 years later, how has Dallas changed, where have they made progress and where have they not?” Hooker said of the goals of this year’s trip.

Dallas, not unlike Atlanta, also grapples with issues of income inequality, and Hooker said he wants to see how Dallas is confronting the issue.

Hooker said the ARC is considering changes to the annual LINK program after the Dallas visit. He said participants and ARC leaders will discuss whether the size of the trip and format still works and how to engage future leaders who aren’t currently regular attendees.

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