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Gwinnett leaders vote to put $12.8 billion transit referendum on November ballot

Maggie Lee
Gwinnett County Transit 2002 Orion VII CNG on the 35 Bus on Spalding Drive heading to Doraville MARTA Station Gwinnett County Transit 2002 Orion VII CNG on the 35 Bus on Spalding Drive heading to Doraville MARTA Station
Gwinnett County already runs some bus service, but a penny sales tax would raise a lot of money — and buy a lot more. Credit: R32s on the E Train / CC BY-SA 4.0 

By Maggie Lee

Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Gwinnett’s proposed transit projects would cost $31.4 billion. However, that’s the proposed transit cost figure for all metro counties together, not for Gwinnett alone. The reference has been deleted.

In November, Gwinnett voters are set to decide whether to set up a 30-year, one-cent county sales tax to level up the county’s transit.

By a 4-1 vote, the Gwinnett County Commission decided to put the transit question on the November 3 ballot. It’ll be the second referendum on transit in two years. The last one failed, with only about 46% of voters in favor.

“I’m not going to argue that at some point in time Gwinnett County won’t need other options in transit and transportation. I wouldn’t be so blind as to think we will never need that … but I think right now is the wrong time,” said Commissioner Tommy Hunter, who represents east and southeast Gwinnett, just ahead of his “no” vote.

Southwest Gwinnett District 2 Commissioner Ben Ku said he thinks it’s important to get the question on a general election ballot when the most possible Gwinnettians will weigh in.

The roughly seven-minute discussion by commissioners Tuesday belies the uncounted hours spent by residents and officials over several years negotiating route maps, going back to the drawing board, and working out a referendum process in the state Legislature.

If Gwinnett votes “yes,” it’ll join the list of the transit big spenders in metro Atlanta. Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties each collect a penny sales tax for transit and the city of Atlanta collects an additional half-penny too.

Except for Clayton, those pennies have been collected for decades and have built MARTA’s heavy rail lines and a bus network.

Gwinnett’s heavy rail plan would extend MARTA heavy rail from Doraville at least to Jimmy Carter and possibly points further north along Interstate 85.  Each of a dozen or so new rapid bus lines would put buses more-or-less in their own lanes to speed through traffic. The plan also includes local bus services.

Gwinnett’s penny sales tax would raise about $12.8 billion over 30 years for these projects.

In March 2019, some 54.3% of Gwinnett voters rejected a similar plan.

Transit advocates have long said that the county commission scuppered transit’s chances at the time by scheduling the referendum for a special election in March — a time when turnout would be liable to be low. In the event, 17% of registered voters cast a ballot at that time.

This time, transit will be on the ballot with a lot of other high-profile races, from the chairmanship of the county commission to the presidency of the United States.

The transit question has divided the Republican and the Democrat who are running to lead the next Gwinnett County Commission. Republican David Post has said transit is a convenience, and a bill in the billions of dollars is too much to pay for that. Democrat Nicole Love Hendrickson supports the plan and says it’s time for Gwinnett to provide this option to residents and business.

Documents:

Gwinnett project list (PDF)

Gwinnett project list (XLS)

Gwinnett presentation containing maps (PDF)

 

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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