MARTA makes its case to voters

NORCROSS - Gwinnett voters will be asked in the upcoming primary election whether or not they support a 1-cent sales tax to pay for MARTA rail service in the county. Monday night at the Global Mall, MARTA made its case why residents should vote yes.

"Transit is a vital lifeline almost like blood going through a body," MARTA Chief Executive Officer Beverly Scott said. "And whatever transit system we have is the facilitator and a part of that community."

Over the course of the next 90 minutes Scott then laid out why MARTA service made sense for Gwinnett County citing rapid growth, tremendous traffic congestion, significant demographic changes and limited choices already in terms of public transportation options.

Acknowledging the 1990 defeat to bring MARTA to Gwinnett, Scott said the issue deserves revisiting now because of the significant increase in the population and the quality of life that all residents deserve. Since 1990 the county population has increased from approximately 300,000 to 800,000. "And there's no abatement of growth for the future," she said, citing MARTA's projections that the county would contain nearly 1,000,000 residents by 2030.

"People are making the connection between transportation, land use, environment and energy," she said. "And public transit is the best bet we can make."

She reiterated further that public transit made sense because of rising energy costs, rising carbon dioxide emissions caused by automobiles and the American economy's "voracious petroleum consumption" habit.

When Scott passed the baton to the Transit Planning Board's Cheryl King, King laid out the proposed expansion plan, which she also hoped would be adopted by the county by the end of the year. The plan called for a 25 percent minimum increase in the number of buses and vans over the next three to five years and then an expansion of MARTA's heavy rail line from Doraville to Norcross with completion coming in five to seven years. Longer term plans following the Norcross expansion called for new light rail service that would connect Norcross with additional centers at Indian Trail and the Gwinnett Place Mall and the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The light rail service would be similar to what the cities of Austin, Texas and Charlotte, N.C. have.

"Light rail service is what this region needs the most," Scott said.

An additional informational session about bringing service to Gwinnett County will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at the Georgia Gwinnett College Building B Atrium.

SideBar: Word on the street

What do you think about MARTA possibly expanding to Gwinnett?

Cornelius Simon, Snellville

"I think it's long overdue. I think our first step should be to increase our Gwinnett County transit first"

Penny Patel, 46, Gorin's cafe employee, Duluth

"I'm not much excited about it. There's already transit over here so it doesn't make a difference."

Ryan Lanning, 23, general manager of River Street Sweets, Lawrenceville

"I mean if it helps people to save money on transportation, I'm all for it. I'm probably not going to use it. If gas went to like 6 bucks, then maybe."

Judy Stamsen, 66, retired, Lawrenceville

"I don't like it because I see these buses going by now without anyone in them."

Kenyatta Oby, manager of Cargill art gallery, Lawrenceville

"It should come to Gwinnett because we can't get around in this area. I have to walk a mile to get to a bus stop. There are lots of elderly people stuck in their houses. I'd pay one cent not to walk a mile."

Shane Reynolds, 36, insurance claims, Dacula

"It's a bad idea. I think we'd start getting crime in Gwinnett County. When I take MARTA in Fulton County with my family, I don't feel safe. In the South it's particularly problematic because its not densely populated, there's more sprawl. MARTA has to have a serious dedication to security."

Virginia Roddy, 58, Barnes & Noble bookseller at Mall of Georgia

"I'm in favor of that. The price of gas is getting a bit too high. We need more public transportation of higher quality. MARTA is a nice, clean way of getting from one place to another. I think you're going to have crime anywhere. Europe has a marvelous public transportation system. Our biggest mistake was relying on vehicles."

Hugh Wilkerson, owner of Antiques in Old Town, Lilburn

"We need something. MARTA is probably a good option. There's a transportation problem - streets are gridlocked- you have to plan your day ahead of time. It takes a lot of time to go anywhere. Growth is happening. You can't really stop it."

This question was asked by staff interns Jessica Burghaus and Shalini Ramachandran.