Local funds could get transit built faster

DULUTH - Spending local money on transit projects can help ensure that rail systems and other alternative methods of transportation are built in the region in a timely fashion, a transit expert said.

Speaking to members of the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Transit Planning Board staff director Cheryl King said that while metro Atlanta is behind in offering transportation options to its residents, leveraging local funds to pay for regional plans would shave years off the amount of time it would take to get projects started.

"The bottom line is it's time for action," she said. "We've got to work as a region to be effective and we've got to do it now."

King and Beverly Scott, the general manager of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, said spending local funds on part of the $54 billion regional transit plan would mean the region, and not the federal government, would decide what projects went forward. The goal, they said, was to create connectivity with transit options around metro Atlanta.

In Gwinnett, support for MARTA and other transit options is good, Mark Rountree said. Rountree, of Landmark Communications, conducted a poll last year that shows that two-thirds of Gwinnett residents have a favorable opinion of MARTA and 64 percent of people in the county are likely to ride a transit system.

"People in this county are clearly ready for rail and they want it," he said. "MARTA is more popular than any politician in the state in Gwinnett County. MARTA is more popular than Sonny Perdue."

Natalie Shore, the public policy program manager for the Chamber, said the biggest thing she hears from companies that choose not to locate in the county is that traffic is the major obstacle keeping them away.

"It's a huge, huge factor," she said. "It has a huge, huge impact."

According to Rountree's poll, sponsored by the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, transit is as popular an option for relieving commuters' traffic woes as widening roads.

Scott, with MARTA, said she wasn't surprised by the results.

"People are saying loud and clear that they want to have solutions," she said. "There is no question this is at a minimum a light rail corridor. We just need to do it."