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Trip offers insight on light rail
Gwinnett leaders observe Charlotte's transit system

LAWRENCEVILLE - After traveling to Charlotte, N.C., to tour that city's light rail transit system, local leaders said they were impressed by the line and that they think the transportation method is right for Gwinnett.

"I have a better handle on it in my mind now than I did before," Commission Chairman Charles Bannister said. "Light rail I certainly would say is appropriate in the future for Gwinnett and all of metro Atlanta as we grow."

Bannister attended the Transit Planning Board's trip along with members of the Atlanta Regional Commission and other Gwinnett leaders. In Charlotte, participants talked to officials about how their nine-mile line was funded and what issues they encountered.

Brian Allen, the county's transportation director, said metro Atlanta is faced with some challenges Charlotte did not have to contend with because that city has about one sixth the population of this region. While Charlotte has just two entities to work with - the city and the county - there are many more counties in the Atlanta region that must reach an agreement before a regional transit plan can move forward.

But Allen said progress is being made.

"People are actively coming together and talking, and that's a start," he said. "There's a lot of things we can learn."

Transit Planning Board Staff Director Cheryl King said participants were attentive during the presentations and excited about the possibilities.

She said Charlotte's system has about 12,000 riders a day, and has been operating for fewer than six months. Projections indicated it would have 9,800 riders daily.

King said she isn't advocating that money for road projects be stopped, but thinks that transit expansion is necessary to metro Atlanta's economy.

"It's detrimental if we don't do something," she said. "The problem's so critical, we need to do everything we can."

Allen cautioned that the transit system, though, wouldn't be a cure-all for the region's traffic woes.

"None of them by themselves are," he said. "They're all part of the plan."