Grayson Mayor Allison Wilkerson may have sparked a bidding war between other Gwinnett cities for transit funding Thursday afternoon.
As leaders of each of Gwinnett’s cities met with county commissioners, Wilkerson told county officials that her city was not interested in getting transit projects for the Grayson area that Gwinnett leaders were looking at putting on a transit referendum list. It was a head turning moment as representatives the cities weighed in on the possible projects that could be funded by a transit tax.
Wilkerson said Grayson was close enough to Snellville to use transit projects that are included for that city.
“Grayson is a different animal,” Wilkerson said. “No one moved to Grayson for easy access to (Interstate) 85 and I don’t believe anyone moved to Grayson with the thought that transit was going to come our direction. So the people I speak to in Grayson are perfectly happy if you (took away) all of the Grayson (projects).
“We’re close enough to Snellville. We don’t really have the area. We don’t have the need. No one shows up at City Hall every day wanting transit. If anything, we hear that they don’t want it. We’re appreciative for the rest of the county that has a desire, but we’re that animal that’s perfectly fine without it.”
Gwinnett is still in the process of determining what projects would go on a ballot question for a transit referendum that voters would have to approve, and Thursday’s meeting was a chance for city leaders to highlight any projects they especially wanted to see included in a transit vote.
Although an unconstrained project list was submitted to, and approved by, the Atlanta Transit Link Authority Board on Wednesday for inclusion in the metro Atlanta transit development plan, Gwinnett must go back and whittle down a fiscally constrained project list from that group.
Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said she expects commissioners will approve a constrained list in June.
“It will probably be the third week in June before we officially act on it, but we’ve got to get the decision wrestled down in the first half, either the first week or the second week of June,” Nash said.
The chairwoman did not rule out the possibility that commissioners will hold a called meeting in early June to discuss a constrained list before a vote happens.
The constrained list would have to be submitted to the Atlanta Transit Link Authority board for approval before the county can schedule a Gwinnett transit referendum. Nash said a decision has not yet been made on when to schedule a referendum.
As a precaution, however, county leaders are following a timeline to ensure the November ballot remains an option. Commissioners have until sometime in late July to call for a referendum if they want it on the November ballot, but they would need the ATL board’s approval of the constrained list by then.
They would also have to decide whether voters would be deciding whether to simply expand Gwinnett County Transit, or fold Gwinnett into MARTA before deciding when to hold a referendum.
“We’re trying to keep all of our options open so we’re meeting deadlines for both the MARTA penny and the transit tax penny so the board’s got as many options from which to choose as possible,” Nash said.
That just leaves the question of deciding what to include on the constrained project list. County leaders have to figure out how to spread projects out around the county.
While Grayson is not jumping at the chance to get more transit, Gwinnett’s other cities are eager to see projects included for their areas.
In fact, Sugar Hill Mayor Steve Edwards and Suwanee City Councilwoman Linnea Miller jokingly offered to take some of the funding that would have gone Grayson’s way so their cities could get additional projects.
“Whatever Grayson doesn’t want, Sugar Hill will take,” Edwards said.
“He can have it,” Wilkerson shouted from the audience.
Meanwhile, Miller said Suwanee has a lot of congestion on McGinnis Ferry Road that needs to be addressed. A bus route along that road would help, she added.
“We could always take one of those routes from Allison,” Miller said.
Other cities had their own thoughts.
“We are the other animal and we’re comfortable with the (unconstrained) list and we’re sure you’re going to get everything that’s listed on there,” Lawrenceville Mayor David Still said.
There’s also the question of whether to include a heavy rail line that would go to at least Jimmy Carter Boulevard, if not further north to Gwinnett Place Mall.
Snellville officials are not keen on seeing heavy rail included. That may not be too surprising since the proposed rail line was not set to go near the south Gwinnett city, meaning its residents likely would not see a benefit from it.
“The city of Snellville supports the ‘No Rail’ option, which we believe would allow for greater flexibility for future changes in population growth and ridership through changes in bus routes rather than an inflexible heavy rail investment,” Snellville Mayor Barbara Bender said.
“Gwinnett’s cities are all developing their own town centers that are creating density in smaller geographic areas which naturally provide better hubs for people to access transit in the future. We believe that investments that can be made across the county versus the concentration of so much investment with heavy rail in one area would provide more transit opportunities for people throughout the county.”