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Our view: Congestion relief can't wait years

"We need help now." Anyone who braves metro rush hour traffic knows the veracity of that statement, made by Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister after Thursday's Transit Planning Board meeting.

The plan released at that meeting would provide the addition of multiple bus and rail options in Gwinnett and the surrounding region with a price tag of more than $54 billion over 30 to 50 years. While the price is high, the numbers that most worried members of the Transit Planning Board concerned the plan's length.

A valid concern, to be sure. Because while Gwinnett, and the region as a whole, needs a long-term traffic plan, it needs short-term relief as well.

Said Bannister: "I think we need congestion relief in some form. We need help now; we need to improve transportation out there now."

Officials admit the plan is evolving, and public meetings encouraging input will be held through May. Doug Tollett, vice chair of the Transit Planning Board, said that the proposed plan is a starting point that he hopes can be built on through public input.

In Gwinnett, the plan calls for light rapid transit or streetcars to be added between the Doraville MARTA station and Gwinnett Place Mall. Bus service would continue north on that route along Interstates 85 and 985, and a pair of commuter rail lines would cut through the county, connecting Gainesville to Atlanta through Duluth and Peachtree Corners and connecting Athens to Atlanta through Lawrenceville.

It is a costly plan - an estimated $2.2 billion per year through 2030 - but one that has merit. But in addition to this long-term thinking, we need more timely improvement as well.

Like Bannister said, we need help now.