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Gwinnett County’s MARTA vote happens in a week, and it could be historic

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Despite the lack of organized opposition, MARTA’s future in Gwinnett remains uncertain

MARTA train on rails.
Gwinnett residents could ride the rails to Jimmy Carter Boulevard, and, possibly, beyond.
Curbed Atlanta

Next week, Gwinnett residents could take a major step forward in improving their commutes in and around the county.

On Tuesday, Gwinnett County votes on proposed MARTA expansion that could bring not only heavy rail but also expanded bus service to the area. This possibly historic referendum goes beyond a simple “yes” or “no” vote despite how it’s presented on the ballot.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into this issue.

A look at the ballot

Surprisingly, the ballot itself contains no mention of MARTA at all. Instead, it reads: “Gwinnett County has executed a contract for the provision of transit services, dated as of August 2, 2018. Shall this contract be approved? YES ____ NO ____”

For voters, that simple statement is much more complex than just approving a contract.

Breaking down the “contract”

As referenced in the ballot question, the contract executed by Gwinnett County does include transit service with MARTA. However, a majority “yes” vote also would enact a new 1 percent sales tax that would be earmarked to pay for these transit projects and operations throughout the county.

This new sales tax would not end until 2057, resulting in billions of dollars. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, all monies raised would be “for the benefit of Gwinnett.”

While the plan does call for heavy rail, extending the line from the current Doraville MARTA station to a new transit hub to be built near the intersection of Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Interstate 85, it also calls for much more robust bus service.

If approved, bus service in Gwinnett would double, plus see the addition of both Express routes and bus rapid transit (BRT) routes. In addition, Sunday service–currently unavailable–would be added.

If approved, Gwinnett could see expanded bus service sooner rather than later.
James Willamor

If passed, change could come quickly

That “change” would be in the form of the sales tax. If the vote is passed next week, the county would start collecting the sales tax on April 1. Changes to the county’s existing bus service also could come within a matter of weeks, but may not start to roll out for a few months.

However, residents won’t see substantive changes like the bus rapid transit service or heavy rail for years to come. According to the AJC, the BRT could be up and running within five years, but the heavy rail wouldn’t be completed for 15 to 20 years.

Will it pass?

Approval for the contract and accompanying sales tax remains quite uncertain despite no formal opposition to the referendum. Those in favor of the measure include Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, Gwinnett County Public Schools superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

However, according to a poll of 1,000 people by WSB and Rosetta Stone, 51.4 percent oppose the referendum, with just 39 percent in favor. The true test, though, will come in the voting booth on Tuesday.

Where to vote

Early voting is now open for Gwinnett County residents through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Polls will be open Tuesday, March 19, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.