Posted July 29, 2016 by the Des Moines Register 

Great cities have great public mobility options — including walking, biking, rideshare and public transit. These options help drive economic development, along with workforce recruitment and retention. Development in greater Des Moines continues to gain steam. Numerous projects are in the works, including new retail areas, corporate expansions, companies moving to the region, a housing boom in the suburbs and growth of residential options downtown. Now is the time to work together and make certain we have the mobility options in place, both short-term and long-term, to build upon that momentum.

Recent articles in The Des Moines Register highlight the vibrancy of our regional economy and growth potential of the statewide workforce:

It is no surprise that greater Des Moines has the distinction of being Iowa’s fastest-growing metro area, based on the new U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2015. The Des Moines-West Des Moines MSA grew 9.4 percent since the 2010 Census, and Dallas County, home to portions of Clive, Urbandale, Waukee and West Des Moines, grew 21.2 percent.

This is an exciting time and place for our region’s medical, business and education sectors. However, it is essential that we all think not just about today, but about what our community looks like 10 to 20 years from now.  A key driver of growing cities, and a consideration that is critical to our future, is a clear vision for robust and innovative mobility options. With that vision, we will be able to connect our growing communities and our people to jobs, medical services and education; without it, we will struggle to effectively attract and retain talent.

We are leading the Transit Future Work Group because the region needs a strong vision for the future of public transit. The group was formed through the Capital Crossroads Vision Plan to identify transportation challenges and propose solutions for creating efficient and effective transportation options for greater Des Moines. We want to offer our support for a blend of public and private mobility options and provide our backing for the work of the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority’s commission and staff.

With unemployment rates below 4 percent, Iowa is the envy of many states. However, we know this also presents a challenge to recruiting and retaining the talent that will keep our economy growing. We must do everything we can to put ourselves in a better position to compete for talent against cities where great public transit is the standard.

For those of us who have moved from larger cities, the 20-minute commute seems easy by comparison. But at the rate of our community’s growth, planning now for more robust transportation options is essential. The busiest stretch of Interstate Highway 235 on Des Moines’ west side exceeds an average of 127,000 vehicles per day, compared with 115,000 vehicles in 2010. Now is the time to plan for how we move people from place to place in the future.

We’re all very proud of the top rankings that show greater Des Moines as a place people want to live and work. We need continued regional cooperation and visioning for the future to remain a destination of choice. Numerous reports and studies show the importance of public mobility options to residents. A Capital Crossroads survey of Des Moines young professionals found public transit was their top priority for improving the region. For residents living in the suburbs, it was their second priority, after parks and recreation. A recent DART survey of non-riders found that they prioritized investment in public transit over widening and adding new roads.

Given the time it takes to obtain funding for transportation improvements and to then build the new infrastructure, it is time to determine what our future transportation options can be and how they will serve Greater Des Moines residents and visitors. We must plan now for a future in which how people move around our community looks far different than it does today. The first milestone in planning for the future is the upcoming release of the updated 2035 DART Forward long-range transit plan. We are excited to see the plan and to help the region begin taking steps to activate recommendations in the short-term to benefit our region in the long-term with an improved public transit system.

ERIC CROWELL, CEO of UnityPoint Helath – Des Moines; DON PEARSON, Wells Fargo regional president; JEFF ROMMEL, senior vice president – property and casualty sales for Nationwide; and MARTY MARTIN, president of Drake University, lead the Transit Future Work Group through the Capital Crossroads Vision Plan.