Officials commend traffic bill

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett officials praised lawmakers Thursday for clearing the way for traffic improvements and jobs.

After a three-year stalemate, Georgia's House and Senate passed a bill Wednesday to divide the state into regions, allowing people to vote to impose a 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation.

The issue has been the No. 1 pursuit of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce since the business organization created a public policy department in 2007.

"The bottom line for all of us to take away is that, for the first time, the state of Georgia (including metro Atlanta), has a long-term plan for truly tackling our crippling traffic congestion and deteriorating infrastructure," Chamber President Jim Maran wrote in a letter thanking supporters and legislators. "For our economic development team, this means 'transportation' is no longer the big weakness it once was. For our member employers, this means more effective movement of talent, goods and services. For everyone, this means more time spent with our families and less time in traffic."

Gwinnett voters have supported a sales tax to fund transportation and other projects for two decades, although officials say that if the current economic doldrums continue, a 2012 vote to impose a tax could be problematic.

For now, though, leaders were celebrating the first major achievement on the issue in years.

"As the vice-chair of (Atlanta Regional Commission) and the chair of one of largest county economic engines in the Southeast, I could not be happier that for the first time in our history, Georgia is poised to offer its citizens the opportunity to choose a funding mechanism for a long term transportation plan," Chairman Charles Bannister said. "It will allow us to move people and products more efficiently and make us an even greater international competitor for business development and jobs."