Gwinnett County leaders will be looking at what comes next today as they process the defeat of a proposed contract with MARTA to provide transit services to the county.

Opponents of a proposal to expand MARTA into Gwinnett County prevailed over pro-MARTA forces in the county’s transit referendum on Tuesday. With all of the precincts counted as of 11 p.m., the “No” votes made up 54.32 percent of the votes in unofficial results. The defeat put Gwinnett back at square one in terms of figuring how to expand transit in the county.

“We’ll be looking what our options are in terms of how we go forward,” county commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said. “Transit is such an important issue. I still think we’ve got a good plan, we had a good contract so it’s a matter of looking at all of the options and making a decision about how we move forward.”

The defeat of the MARTA contract means the future of transit in Gwinnett County is now in the hands of the newly-formed Atlanta Transit Link Authority, also known as “The ATL.”

Final Results

Yes 41,985
No 49,936

The bill that created The ATL included a provision which let Gwinnett County first pursue a contract with MARTA without waiting for The ATL’s board to draft its regional plan for transit development. MARTA would have been allowed to use the Connect Gwinnett Transit Development Plan, which county officials put together with public input from residents, as the transit agency’s blueprint for providing service to Gwinnett.

“We’ve got the process that’s been laid out for The ATL, which means that we would submit our projects for consideration into the regional plan and then there would be another referendum as a result of that,” said Nash, who is a member of The ATL’s governing board.

The vote on Tuesday was seen as a major decision for Gwinnett County, with eyes across metro Atlanta focused on what the county’s voters would do. This marks the third time in nearly half a century that the county’s voters have rejected a proposal to bring MARTA in the county.

Gwinnettians had been asked to approve a contract between the county and MARTA for the provision of transit services, effectively bringing the regional transit agency northeast along Interstate 85.

Approval of the contract would have meant the levying of a 1 percent sales tax to pay for Gwinnett’s participation in the MARTA system.

“Frankly I thought the victory margin would be wider than it was, based on the demographic results from early voting that we’d seen so far,” leading opponent Joe Newton said. “Had we had enough time to organize this thing, I thought it would have been bigger.”

Before the final numbers came in, Nash and Go Gwinnett spokeswoman Paige Havens had held out hope that the referendum could still pass during a watch party at Slow Pour in Lawrenceville, even though 59 percent of the precincts had been counted and “No” votes made up about 54 percent of the results.

“I would certainly prefer that the votes be reversed right now, but this is such an important decision for the county regardless of the outcome,” Nash said.

Havens said the numbers were “still super tight” and added there were still several votes left to be counted.

“(With) the fact that we’re within 6,000 votes, we continue to be optimistic,” Havens said.

But as the final group of votes were counted, the margin didn’t change much.

MARTA CEO Jeff Parker had praise for work done by Nash to explain the county’s Connect Gwinnett Transit Development Plan and the proposed contract to voters, though.

“I think Gwinnett County did a phenomenal job laying out their vision for transit,” Parker said.

Meanwhile, voters expressed a variety of reasons why they supported or opposed the measure as they left the polls.

Lawrenceville resident Marsha McCutchen said she did not think the county would get enough in terms of heavy rail for the amount of money the tax is expected to bring in — $5.5 billion in 2018 dollars.

“I thought that it was too much money for that short of a distance,” she said as she left the voting precinct at First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville.

Some voters said they were opposed to the sales tax that would be levied in Gwinnett if the measure passed.

“I have a small business down here, and it’s just extra stuff we don’t need, I say,” Lawrenceville resident Joel Stewart said as he left the voting precinct at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.

Voters who supported the contract said they felt MARTA was needed.

“I think a lot of people that voted ‘No’ probably don’t feel like they’re going to get any benefit from it just because they live farther out,” said Lawrenceville resident Joe Ortiz, who voted yes at the Infinite Energy Center voting precinct. “I think, closer to the city, they care more about it.”

Early results showed the contract was supported in communities along Interstate 85 in southwest ernand central Gwinnett, as well as voters in the southern tip of the county. Voters in northern and eastern Gwinnett, as well as Snellville and Lilburn, mostly opposed it.

Lawrenceville resident Mary Gordon, a member of the coalition of opponents to the contract, said people who voted against passage are not anti-transit. She said they wanted a transit system that was run by Gwinnett County.

“Everyone I know who is voting ‘no’ is for public transit, but not this contract,” she said.

— Staff Writer Isabel Hughes contributed to this report.

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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