Although Gwinnett County voters rejected a plan for expanding transit in the county earlier this year, State Road and Tollway Authority Executive Director Chris Tomlinson told the Gwinnett Chamber on Friday that he believed it was model for other metro communities.
Tomlinson and Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry talked about transportation and transit, and how they impact Gwinnett, as they addressed the chamber at its monthly On Topic luncheon.
While Tomlinson said there is no one-size-fits-all plan that works for every county in the footprint of the Atlanta Transit Link Authority, also known as the ATL, he praised Gwinnett for including multiple modes of transportation in its plan.
“We are looking to Gwinnett’s plan as an example and we’re showing it literally to other counties at how you can put together a multimodal transportation plan,” Tomlinson said. “Gwinnett’s plan includes multiple versions of what we call ‘high capacity options.’
“Yes, there’s a component to look at rail, but (also) looking at new technologies such as bus rapid transit makes sense.”
The ATL board is in the process of putting together a region-wide transit expansion plan. Counties within the ATL’s footprint would be able to take projects from the plan that are within their jurisdiction and hold transportation-specific special purpose local option sale tax referendums to let voters decide whether to pay for them.
“Even if, because of your work or you lifestyle, transit may not be the primary option that you will use, these projects offer opportunities to improve the driving conditions for everyone else,” Tomlinson said.
Gwinnett’s attempt earlier this year to get voter approval to pay for projects in the plan was tied to the county joining MARTA. The transit system would have used the Connect Gwinnett Transit Development Plan as its blueprint for expanding its service into the county.
County officials have recently begun taking another look at the plan, looking at possible areas for improvement to the plan.
“I can tell you outside of Gwinnett, there’s a lot of people who seem to have forgotten that Gwinnett has a robust transit system already and trying to find ways to enhance that based on what are the local preferences — that’s a lot of what’s in the plan,” Tomlinson said. “I commend Gwinnett for the plan that they have in place and they continue to have outreach to the community ...
“We stand ready at The ATL to work with Gwinnett, work with our partners at MARTA, to explore what the future of transit looks like in each and every part of the region, because the answers aren’t the same in each place.”
Work progressing in turning Ga. 316 into a limited access highway
While transit was a key part of Tomlinson’s comments, McMurry talked about other projects taking place either in Gwinnett, or nearby, that will affect drivers in the county.
Those projects included the ongoing widening of Interstate 85 in the Braselton area, plans to build a new interchange at I-85 and Gravel Springs Road and a partnership with Gwinnett officials to study possible improvements to the interstate in the heart of the county.
But a big, ongoing project GDOT is working on is the gradual conversion of State Route 316 into a limited access highway. McMurry said that is a $1 billion effort stretching from Gwinnett to the Athens area.
“It really improves safety, first and foremost, because you get rid of the traffic signals on a high volume road, so that ‘s the first goal,” McMurry said. “And then, as you get rid of the signals, you get more capacity out of 316 and then 316 moves cars more efficiently because they don’t have to stop.”
The planned Harbins Road interchange at 316 has gotten plenty of press in recent years and has already been bid out, but work is already underway on an interchange at State Route 81 in Barrow County.
Hi Hope Road near Gwinnett County Airport is also being looked at as a potential interchange. U.S. 29 will also eventually become an interchange on 316.
“From basically Hi Hope to 29, those will all be interchanges, or overpasses or rerouted to frontage roads, and then Gwinnett County is doing Harbins Road,” McMurry said. “That will get everything out to Harbins Road.”
Work to convert the intersection of 316 and State Route 53 in Barrow County is expected to be bid next month and then the conversion of the intersection at State Route 11 to an interchange is set to be bid out next spring.