By Arielle Kass, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
(CNT) City News And Talk #atlanta-ga
Julianne Thompson was a vocal opponent of Gwinnett County’s 2019 transit referendum. But this year, the Republican strategist has already voted — and voted yes.
Thompson’s vote changed because the transit expansion plan on this year’s ballot changed, from a proposal voters decisively rejected in a 2019 special election.
“This new referendum is actually completely different than last time,” Thompson said. “They heard [voters’] concerns and they made changes.”
One of the biggest changes has to do with control.
The 2019 plan, known as Connect Gwinnett, would have led to the county joining the MARTA system. Under the current proposal, Gwinnett County would maintain control of its own transit system. MARTA would be part of the project only through a single heavy rail extension from Doraville to Jimmy Carter Boulevard.
The $12.1 billion expansion would be paid for through a penny sales tax collected under the new Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority — not MARTA, as would have been the case in 2019. Sales tax dollars will pay for three quarters of the cost.
In addition, the current plan would speed up the process for getting buses running. By 2031 — 10 years after tax collections begin — there would be two high-capacity bus rapid transit lines running, as well as two arterial rapid transit lines on main corridors. Under the plan rejected last year, just one bus rapid transit line would have been operating in a decade.
If approved, additional commuter rail and paratransit service will also be ready in the first 10 years, as will seven of the eight planned micro-transit areas. The MARTA extension would be running in 2036.
“A lot goes in sooner,” Gwinnett Transportation Director Alan Chapman said of the new proposal. “Much of what would happen in the first 20 years in Connect Gwinnett happens in the first 10 years.”
The result is that under the new plan, more than 115,000 people would be within walking distance to bus or arterial rapid transit after 10 years, as compared to 30,000 people in the Connect Gwinnett plan, according to a county analysis.
The proposal was also reworked to include more connectivity.
An additional route was added from Suwanee to the Avalon area in Alpharetta, and one from Snellville into Stonecrest and Lithonia would help connect those areas. Three commuter lines were added, including a commuter connection to Athens that would stop at the Infinite Energy Center, the Gwinnett Place Mall and in Norcross to make travel easier to and from the University of Georgia.
Plus, one arterial bus line was upgraded to bus rapid transit and five new local routes were added, as compared to the Connect Gwinnett plan.
The plan would add Sunday service and extend hours until at least midnight. Currently, Gwinnett County transit ends service before 10 p.m. and there are no buses on Sundays. Chapman said the changes will help people who work second shift get to and from jobs.
Chapman said the changes were made after listing to feedback from residents following the defeat of Connect Gwinnett.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “Based on what we heard last time, they’re the appropriate changes to make.”