There will not be a referendum on transit expansion put before voters in 2022, according to the top elected official in county government.

After two referendums on transit expansion were put before voters in 2019 and 2020 — with both of them being rejected — it would be understandable if residents have been wondering if Gwinnett’s leaders plan to put another transit referendum on the 2022 ballot.

But, Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson was clear on whether the commission plans to call for another vote next year.

“We are not,” she said after a recent press conference at Gwinnett Place Mall. “We are back at the drawing board. We went back to the drawing board because there is so much unknown right now with where things stand with the pandemic and in a post-pandemic world, what does transportation (and traffic congestion) look like.

“We really want to study where we are today and not base (a vote on) an old plan, you know force the citizens to vote on an old plan. We want to start from scratch.”

The county is now revisiting its comprehensive transportation plan, which will be updated in a process that is expected to take two years to complete.

But, while the county is starting over from scratch on a transportation plan, Hendrickson is not ruling out the possibility of a referendum coming up at a later date, whether that be in 2024 or sometime thereafter.

“If rail or mass transit comes out of the planning process, and we need to figure out a way to fund it, then we’ll have that conversation about a referendum,” the chairwoman said. “But, in the meantime, my goal is to try to get immediate short term projects implemented now.

“We can’t wait for a referendum conversation. We can’t wait for a heavy rail conversation. There are projects that we can implement now because we have transit-dependent residents. We have place-based communities, like seniors, that can’t get around. We have a traffic and congestion problem. We can’t wait four years to call a referendum. We need to do things now and there are ways to do that.”

One such way to address transportation needs is through the county’s annual budget.

Although the referendums put before voters in recent years would have entailed broad expansions of transit, the county has occasionally done small expansions through its annual budget.

One such expansion, which added a small number of routes, was initiated in the county’s 2016 budget. One of those routes was the commuter bus route that takes Gwinnettians to the Emory and CDC area.

The county may take a similar approach in its 2022 budget. A budget request made by the county’s transportation department during its business plan presentation on Aug. 31 included adding five local bus routes, a commuter bus route and microtransit in the Snellville area.

The commuter bus route would run between Dacula and Atlanta while the local routes would extend service to areas such as Suwanee, Snellville and the Mall of Georgia area.

Hendrickson did not rule out the possibility that she will use the county budget to add bus routes, indicating at least some of the requested routes could end up in the proposed budget that she will unveil later this year.

“We are looking at that,” she said. “We are looking at all of the projects that can be implemented within a two-year time frame that have already been studied, have been looked at. Those are the projects that we need to start rolling out now.

“We can’t wait two years for the update to the CTP plan. There are things in the plan that are those low-hanging fruit that we can start implementing now, and there’s still funding in the SPLOST, the 2017 SPLOST, where we can still get some of those up and running. We’re looking at all of the short-term immediate transportation improvement projects that we can implement now to make sure we can bring options to our transit-dependent communities.”

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.

(5) comments

asheldon

Nicole is right in that we can expand transit as the need is clearly there. The need is clearly there for a much more extensive transit expansion as well. The county and transit supporters have failed to get the facts out to the voters based on the comments from opponents which show they don't understand why this is needed. Nicole is also right in that the plan that was developed needs updating and that was true before the referendum was placed on the ballot but there was nto enough time to do that before the vote. We really can't afford to keep waiting as the costs keep escalating and traffic keeps getting worse which is why a flawed plan was the basis of the last referendum. It was better to start collecting funds and get the low hanging fruit expansion started while we improved the plan. One of the keys in getting a referendum passed should have been a frank discussion of the timing in building the expensive rail infrastructure. While it was implied it was never discussed about what the timeline would be if we used our AAA bond rating to sell bonds at a low interest rate. Thsi woudl get an actvie rail connection as far as JC Blvd in five years and GP Mall in ten years not a decade longer as the plans stated.

While Nicole is not commiting to rail at this time she understands it is inevitable as did Charlotte Nash and the new plans will include it. The SPLOST is up for renewal next year which is the main reason there will not be a referendum in 2022 so there is not a conflict or competition between the additonal tax requests. While no one likes paying taxes we have no choice in dealing with the traffic congestion we have and that is coming as the population grows and workers eventually return to commuting to work.

What was also not mentioned in this article is the planning study going on currently of the I-85 corridor from I-285 to I-985 will will result in additional HOT lanes being constructed in that stretch to the tune of over $1B and probably closer to $2B or more and even at that the new lanes will onyl help for a short period of time before they again become congested due to the phenomonon of 'Induced Demand' also known as 'latent demand'. We will have reached the limits of road expansion in that corridor as we are with the current projects going on on the top end I-285 perimeter. Transit is the long term option. It isn't things like autonomous vehicles which still would congest the roads and they are yet to be proven viable and the infrastructure to support them will cost billions.

MarvinGardens

I am pro-transit like you, but I don't buy the "induced demand" argument against improving roads. If it were consequential, then traffic would be bad on all roads, regardless of location, because the uncongested roads would induce demand until they were congested. Induced demand is used as an excuse to deprioritize roads by those who view roads as competing with transit. And I could use the same argument against expanding transit: Why add more MARTA lines, they'll just fill up with passengers. Let's just be honest if we want to prioritize one project over another.

I, for one, favor transit and good roads. If we can't expand I-85 in width, let's double-decker it. And add a train. Then we all get to work faster.

hpytravlr

Tax and Spend

MarvinGardens

Fascinating analysis.

asheldon

When necessary and transit expansion is absolutely necessary. Road expansion which also requires taxes is not the long term answer here anymore.

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