Transit expansion in Gwinnett County: ATL to hear presentation Thursday
By David Pendered
Gwinnett County voters could get an early indication Thursday as to whether a transit tax could be added to the Nov. 3 ballot. A heavy rail line is eligible for consideration for sales tax funding, to reach from MARTA’s Doraville Station to a future facility in Norcross.
Nothing about a sales tax referendum for transit is definite, according to public comments from county leaders. Likewise, nothing can move forward without prior approval from the board that oversees the ATL, the regional authority established by the Legislature to streamline transit services in metro Atlanta. The potential sales tax rate could be either 0.5 percent or 1 percent, according to state law.
An ATL committee on Thursday is slated to receive and ask questions about Gwinnett’s proposal. The response from committee members may indicate the fate of the package when the ATL board votes on it. A special-call board meeting is set for July 9. If the ATL approves, Gwinnett officials can proceed with their planning for a referendum.
Meanwhile, Gwinnett County’s Board of Commissioners is still evaluating the list of projects that could be on a funding list. Included in deliberations is whether the time is ripe to call a sales tax referendum for Nov. 3, according to Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash.
“All you all have heard the angst I’ve had; I was my own best debate partner on this topic,” Nash said at the June 16 commission meeting. “There are still things we have to do before we call for a referendum. This keeps the possibility alive and moves to the next step, as we look for ways to make it more palatable.”
The steps the county is taking now are necessary to preserve the option for calling a transit tax referendum for November, Gwinnett Transportation Director Alan Chapman said at the June 16 meeting.
Forward progress toward a referendum includes:
- May 27 – Gwinnett County’s long-range transit proposal – a wish list unconstrained by cost that includes heavy rail – was approved by a unanimous vote of the board that oversees the regional transit authority, the ATL;
- June 16 – Gwinnett County’s Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 to send to the ATL a list of projects that are constrained by available funds. Commissioner Marlene Foutch voted no, saying that she was casting what she called an “I heard you vote” on behalf of constituents concerned about the cost of extending a heavy rail line to Norcross, rather than spending on bus service that would improve mobility more quickly. The ATL has 20 days to consider the commission’s list of projects and respond, according to state law;
- July 2, Thursday – The ATL’s Regional Transit Planning Committee is slated to hear a presentation on Gwinnett’s transit referendum list;
- July 9 – The ATL Board of Directors is slated to vote on Gwinnett’s project list.
Gwinnett’s forward motion on transit includes the start of an evaluation of a potential bus system from the possible rail station in Norcross to Duluth. The study of a route for a transit mode called “bus rapid transit” is to result in a granular view of the location of future transit hubs and aspirations for the corridor’s development – to include recommendations on zoning and land use, according to a report provided by the county. BRT can travel on existing lanes or on lanes reserved for buses.
Highlights of the BRT report include these comments:
- “This study is limited to the 10-mile section of this alignment from Jimmy Carter Boulevard to Sugarloaf Parkway and across to the Sugarloaf Mills Park-and-Ride.
- “The study area is defined as an approximately ¾ mile buffer on each side of the BRT corridor, which expands to a 1-mile buffer around three transit stations/hubs: Multimodal Hub (near Jimmy Carter Boulevard), Gwinnett Transit Center (at Gwinnett Place Mall), and the Infinite Energy Center.
- “The study will evaluate locations for major BRT stations along the corridor as well as propose recommendations for what the stations and surrounding areas may look like. In addition, the study will provide guidance for changes in zoning or other transit-supportive policies needed to position the corridor for successful BRT implementation….”