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.”