Commissioner candidate announces plan for transit

OK, Gwinnett voters aren't interested in paying a penny tax for MARTA. They said so in the informal questions asked July 15.

But Bruce LeVell still believes that voters want rail, so that's what he's giving them.

LeVell, who placed second in the GOP District 1 commissioner race and will face Shirley Lasseter in a runoff Tuesday, announced Wednesday in a campaign press release that he is moving forward to create a transit plan for the suburban county.

He said the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, where he serves as a board member, will choose a consortium of engineering and planning firms to create the plan, modeled after the Transit Planning Board's "Concept 3" vision. That vision calls for an extension of MARTA's heavy rail line from Doraville to Norcross, followed by a new light rail system along Satellite Boulevard, connecting to the Gwinnett Place and Gwinnett Center areas.

But LeVell said the system could have nothing to do with the embattled Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. Instead, it could be operated by Gwinnett County Transit, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, the Georgia Department of Transportation or some entirely new agency.

"I am not one to sit around and wait for others to take action, particularly when we are choking on traffic congestion and losing economic development opportunities to our neighbors. Rail service - operated by the county or someone else - is a critical piece to revitalizing this area," said LeVell, a Duluth businessman who also serves as the county's representative on the MARTA board.

"The most important aspect of this plan is that it can be used by any rail operator that the voters and the county choose," he said, adding that he still hears a call from citizens for rail while campaigning door-to-door. "I have never said that MARTA should be the rail operator for Gwinnett. I have only said that Gwinnett needs rail transit. This plan will show us how to get there."

The $180,000 plan, which officials hope to partially fund with a grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission, is expected to be complete in March of 2009.

Lasseter, the former Duluth mayor facing LeVell in Tuesday's runoff, said she couldn't comment in specifics since the plan has not been devised, but said the Board of Commissioners and the voters need to be consulted.

"We need to listen to the heartbeat of the citizenry," she said. "I hope it's nothing the taxpayers have to absorb the debt of other counties that have suffered from MARTA."

Senate endorsement

Democratic Senate candidate Jim Martin earned a key endorsement Wednesday from the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a famed civil rights leader whose support was long sought by Martin and his opponent, Vernon Jones, in the Tuesday runoff.

Lowery's endorsement of Martin is seen as a blow to Jones, the DeKalb County chief executive who is seeking to become Georgia's first black U.S. senator.

At a press conference, Lowery called Jones a 'zigzag so-called conservative Bush supporter,' and bashed the Democrat for voting in 2000 and 2004 to elect President Bush. He praised Martin, a former legislator, as the 'consistent Democrat.'

Jones, meanwhile, downplayed the endorsement. 'I stand on his shoulders and the shoulders of all those who came before me and I wish him well,' he said of Lowery in a statement. And he touted the support of about a dozen black legislators and religious leaders who backed him at a campaign rally Tuesday in downtown Decatur.

Jones and Martin won spots in the runoff by finishing first and second in a five-man statewide primary. Each fell short of winning enough votes to clinch the nomination, as Jones won 40 percent of the vote and Martin 34 percent.

The winner of the runoff will face incumbent U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss in November.

Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com.