Another vote, but the same result when it comes to transit in Gwinnett County.
That was the story of Gwinnett County’s transit referendum on Tuesday, as voters once again rejected a tax designed to fund transit expansion in the county. It was the second rejection of a transit referendum in as many years in Gwinnett — but this time the margin of defeat was much narrower.
In fact, Gwinnett was essentially split 50-50 on the issue this time around.
After a late batch of additional votes were counted on Friday afternoon, however, the “No” votes still led just barely with 50.14% of the votes cast in the referendum.
“We knew from the beginning that the vote would be close,” Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said. “While I would have preferred a different outcome, I can’t say that I have regrets. Transit was not on my list of goals when I was elected, but I came to believe it is important for Gwinnett’s future.”
The defeat of the referendum means Gwinnett County must go back to the drawing board on transit.
In 2019, a bid to join MARTA, which would have carried out Gwinnett County’s Connect Gwinnett transit expansion plan, was defeated with 54.32% of voters casting “No” votes.
This time around, the idea was, instead of merging the existing Gwinnett County Transit into MARTA, to just expand the county’s transit system and leave it as its own separate system. The referendum did include extending MARTA rail from the Doraville station to the Jimmy Carter Boulevard corridor, though.
The transit expansion would have been funded by a 30-year sales tax that voters had to approve through the referendum.
Instead, although supporters came closer to getting passage, enough voters still said “No thanks” to defeat the proposal.
“I was fortunate enough to help influence legislation that set the stage for a new approach to transit funding,” Nash said. “The other Board members and I took this route with this most recent referendum that lost by a razor-thin margin. Now, it will be up to future commissioners to decide the path to take on transit expansion.”
That’s exactly how incoming commission chairwoman-elect Nicole Love Hendrickson sees it. She said the incoming new Board of Commissioners, which will include three new members including herself, now have to figure out a way to handle the challenge of expanding transit to meet the county’s future growth needs.
“That is now going to be the (Board of Commissioners’) challenge to start focusing on on Day One: How do we start to build out a comprehensive transportation plan that connects us to the region,” Hendrickson said.
“We were really depending on that (referendum passing) to really help move us forward with mobility, connectivity, to help us manage our growth.”
Hendrickson said addressing growth is the biggest challenge facing the county right now. It is expected to add half a million new residents by 2050.
“That’s concerning to me, and if this transit vote fails, I don’t know, without being able to leverage a sales tax and being able to even leverage federal match dollars, how we’re going to be able to successfully pay for a comprehensive transit system, which the voters think we should do on our own,” Hendrickson said. “But we can’t do that. We need money to do that.”
The transit referendum had been seen by some observers as a legacy project for Nash, who is retiring and leaving office at the end of the year, but the outgoing chairwoman said she did not see it that way.
“As for legacy, no one individual can legitimately take credit for county accomplishments since there are always so many individuals and groups who make those happen,” she said.