Gwinnett County transit vote: Local control is the watchword
By David Pendered
In Gwinnett County, local control is the watchword in the campaign for a proposed 1 percent sales tax to expand transit. MARTA will be involved only because state law requires it – and the role is restricted to heavy rail.
MARTA is equally explicit in stating that Gwinnett County will exercise control over MARTA’s functions in Gwinnett through intergovernmental agreements. These agreements will help address the fact that Gwinnett County does not have a representative on MARTA’s board – because Gwinnett voters have rejected proposals to join MARTA.
The result is a transit proposal that seeks to assure voters that that Gwinnett’s transit tax dollars will not disappear into MARTA coffers, rather than funding bus and paratransit service that’s overseen by Gwinnett officials. The referendum is on the Nov. 3 ballot.
MARTA is required by state law to administer the region’s heavy rail network. This caveat is the reason MARTA’s involvement is required in Gwinnett’s plan to extend heavy rail from MARTA’s Doraville Station to a planned transit hub at Jimmy Carter Boulevard. The plan is part of a proposed countywide transit enhancement.
This state law created a transit authority, the ATL, to unify the governance of transit systems in metro Atlanta in an effort to alleviate traffic congestion and air pollution.
Lawmakers recognized MARTA as the regional provider of heavy rail train service and wrote the following provision into House Bill 930, which then Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law in 2018:
- “[The] Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority shall serve as the sole operator of any system of transportation which utilizes heavy rail within the jurisdiction of the authority.”
The first sentence states:
- “The transit funding vote in November puts Gwinnett County in control of its transit planning, funding, projects and services.”
The third paragraph of the county’s educational campaign details MARTA’s involvement and states, in full:
- “In this new Gwinnett Transit Plan, only the rail line connecting Gwinnett’s new Multimodal Hub at Jimmy Carter Boulevard to MARTA’s Doraville Station will be operated by MARTA, as stipulated by state law. Gwinnett County will have local control of all other transit planning, funding, projects and services, and system operations.”
MARTA, in an email exchange last week, emphasized that intergovernmental agreements will stipulate MARTA’s role in Gwinnett County’s proposed heavy rail service:
- “MARTA and Gwinnett are in discussions around an Intergovernmental Agreement that will govern the construction and operation of the heavy rail.”
Asked how Gwinnet will have a voice in the operations of the heavy rail line to be built in Gwinnett, MARTA responded:
- “There will be an intergovernmental agreement between Gwinnett County and MARTA that governs the operation of the heavy rail.”
Asked about the potential start date for rail service, if voters approve the referendum, MARTA observed:
- “That is not yet known.”
Asked about the milestones leading to the start of service in Gwinnett, MARTA responded:
- “The project delivery method has not yet been determined, so milestones are not yet known. Generally, the extension will need to be designed and engineered, constructed, tested and accepted.”