Gwinnetti County Transit bus file photo

A rider boards a Gwinnett County Transit bus at the county’s Transit Transfer Center at Gwinnett Place Mall in this 2018 file photo. Gwinnett commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday to hold a referendum this fall on expanding the Gwinnett County Transit system, and bringing MARTA rail to the Norcross area.

Gwinnett County commissioners voted 4-1 to ask voters to once again decide whether a 30-year 1% sales tax should be implemented to fund transit expansion in the county.

The transit expansion vote will take place Nov. 3, less than two years after voters rejected a referendum on Gwinnett joining MARTA. Gwinnett will break some ground with the new vote on expanding its existing transit system, with a major growth of its bus system and the inclusion of heavy rail, according to Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash.

The build up to Tuesday’s decision to call the referendum was done using a new system created by the 2018 state law that established the Atlanta Transit Link Authority, more commonly known as The ATL.

“The referendum that we’re contemplating now will be the first referendum under that new structure (created by) that new legislation, and I’m sure there are many people who are watching carefully to see how it’s handled,” Nash said. “Being the first to do anything means that you have to tread the path. You have to, in essence, create the path to some extent.”

But one commissioner felt it was too soon to have a transit vote. Commissioner Tommy Hunter cast the lone vote against holding the referendum, citing the results of the March 2019 referendum. He also said the argument that the 2019 referendum did not get enough turnout because it was a special election “delegitimizes” special elections in general.

“It looks like the new modus operandi of Gwinnett County government is to vote until we get what we want,” Hunter said.

This referendum will be different from the one held last year in that it is mostly asking voters to approve funding to expand Gwinnett County Transit, which is the existing county-run transit. By contrast, last year’s vote was not on expanding transit, but joining MARTA’s system to do so and getting rid of Gwinnett County Transit in the process.

The new referendum will, however, include a heavy rail extension that will bring MARTA’s heavy rail line from its Doraville station to the Jimmy Carter Boulevard extension. Under the state law that created the Atlanta Transit Link Authority, also known as The ATL, MARTA is the only agency allowed to operate heavy rail in metro Atlanta.

The sales tax, if approved by voters, is expected to raise about $12.12 billion over 30 years.

The project list also include 10 bus rapid transit routes including routes that would connect the Infinite Energy Center to Mall of Georgia; the Sugarloaf Park-and-Ride lot with a planned Multi-modal hub that would be the terminus of the heavy rail line on the Jimmy Carter boulevard corridor; Snellville to MARTA’s Indian Creek rail station; and Lawrenceville to Peachtree Corners.

There would also be BRT routes on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard; Steve Reynolds Boulevard; Pleasant Hill Road; Scenic Highway, Lawrenceville Highway and the Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Holcomb Bridge Road area.

Other parts of the plan voters will vote on include 22 improvements to local bus service, with connections to Snellville; Peachtree Corners; Norcross; Duluth; Berkley Lake; Lawrenceville; Suwanee, Sugar Hill; the Stone Mountain and Lilburn areas; Alpharetta; the Mall of Georgia; Gwinnett Place Mall; Sugarloaf Mills; Stonecrest Mall; the Infinite Energy Center; Georgia Gwinnett College; park and ride lots; and regional transit stations.

There will also be three “direct connect” routes including one that connects Peachtree Corners with the Perimeter area and another that connects the Mall of Georgia with the Chamblee MARTA stations with stops at the I-985 park-and-ride lot, the Sugarloaf park-and-ride lot, the Gwinnett Place Transfer Center and the Indian Trail park-and-ride lot.

Another “direct connect” route would connect downtown Lawrenceville and Georgia Gwinnett College with the Chamblee MARTA station.

There would be 13 “enhancements” to express bus service routes run by Gwinnett County Transit as well as flex bus service routes, and expanded paratransit service.

“I would like to point out this is a different plan and a different contract from the 2019 vote and proposal,” Commissioner Ben Ku said. “I do think it is important that this be on a November presidential election ballot where we can get the majority of Gwinnettians to weigh in on this very important issue that would give us the necessary funding source to invest in these infrastructure improvements that we desperately need.”

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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.

(17) comments

Mack

Heavy rail means MARTA. Read between the lines. Nash and others want MARTA in Gwinnett, at any and all costs. The voters have spoken but Nash and company will not accept our answers. Remember Gwinnett does not need MARTA...….MARTA needs Gwinnett. Vote NO again. Now is not the time to raise taxes on anyone.

mikey smith

along with the masses...how many times do we have to say no...good bye charlotte nash

irishmafia116

How many times do we have to say no!!??? Heavy rail cmon ! 20 years!!! yeah 20 years from now everyone will be thrilled to use train ..likely to be NO TRAINS in 20 years. Sales tax forever, MARTA the only one benefiting, they NEED our tax money to survive . But uniformed people will just push a button with no idea of the consequences,. Gwinnett will be South DeKalb in no time

Hector

I didn't get a chance to vote last time because of work. But, I'm voting this time, especially since it's a presidential election year. Gwinnett county's traffic could get insanely awful at times. So, if there's a chance at taking other alternatives of travel around town instead of sitting in traffic for 1-2hrs, I'm for it.

Globeheater

If you do drive, you will get to sit behind a bus carrying two people as it roams around on its route clogging the roads and belching fumes...... Instead of sitting in traffic, you can sit at a bus stop if there is one nearby. Sounds great....

MarvinGardens

"Vote until you get what you want." Isn't that the point of elections, to give the people what they want? If not, shall we suspend future elections, and suspend the legislature too, since they just keep voting on many of the same issues year after year?

In any case, this transit deal appears to have quite a few differences from the one that failed. It is not simply a do-over.

dcw

There are 2 problems with this:

1. This is bad timing with what is going on with the virus. Ridership of public transit is way down and won't return for a while to what it once was. The last thing anyone needs right now is a tax increase with so many hurting financially as it is. If they were smart, they would wait 2 more years and hold it in 2022.

2. Heavy rail is a non-starter. It's too expensive and not a good use of resources when other options are more cost effective. As long as that waste of money is included, I'm a definite no. Drop heavy rail and have a better chance of persuading me and others to consider it.

asheldon

The county has the option to review the choice of rail mode before construction starts. We need to get this on the ballot and passed as there will be a SPLOST renewal on the 2022 ballot and putting two taxes on a ballot ensures one or both will most likely fail. By the state rules there wasn't enough time to do the study prior to announcement. It is still under discussion for next year. It was the main reason Charlotte Nash was hesitant to vote to move froward with heavy rail on the plan as she acknowledged the need to revisit rail mode. Transit ridership will go back up once we get a handle on COVID. We can't afford to wait ebcuase of the tiem invovled in geting this up and running and we are already behind. Rail completion can be faster than the plan states IF we are to use bonds to build it and we should.

Globeheater

We still don’t want it. I pay enough taxes and according to the libs, the world will end, or we will all be in electric cars before they can build the tracks....

asheldon

In fact the rail can be up faster when we sell bonds to finance it. And it is alsoa fact if we dontlg et away from fossil fuel use the world as we know will change for the worse as it already is trendign that way and the farther away we get the longer it will take to recover if we don't stop buring fossil fuels.

getoverit

Have any of you people saying "yes" ever actually seen, noticed or been a part of the current public transportation. THERE ARE NO RIDERS........THEY ARE 90% EMPTY. Initially Gwinnett County employees were PAID to ride them all day just to try and get others on board.......wake up

crobin7028

How many times do we have to vote no? Good luck asking people to vote for a tax increase this year. Much more economic pain will be here by the fall.

getoverit

We have already told you over and over......WE DON'T WANT IT!!!!!!!!!!!

asheldon

A minority (17% of the registered voters voted March 2019) might have. Let's let the majority of voters speak.

MissDaisy

A MARTA vote should be the single issue on the ballot. Any results of an election for a president or governor will be over in four years. An approval of MARTA is forever. It should stand or fall on its own merits. If the electorate is truly interested they will turn out, even if its the only item on the ballot. If it is a down ballot question then it is an after thought and not the main issue.

asheldon

Hardly over and over when there have been three votes over 50 years with the alst beign an off time single question ballot referndum that was hardly attended giving no clear view of the peoples view. If you are so sure the answer is no then you wouldn't be concerned about another ballot question during an election where the cost is minimal to ask the quiestion.. The fact remains lots of people support the idea because it is needed.

Globeheater

It’s not needed. The money it will require could be much better spent. The end result of this will be buses with one or two people on them clogging roads as they make the rounds to all the stops.

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