As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week, next week’s Gwinnett County MARTA referendum has repercussions far beyond Georgia’s second-largest county. A successful referendum could build momentum for expansion in Cobb County and elsewhere in metro Atlanta. A failure could put the brakes on the transit expansion, at least for a while.
On Monday, a panel of local officials confirmed the stakes are high during a discussion about the future of transit at the Atlanta Press Club.
“The Gwinnett vote is probably as important now as the original MARTA vote was some 49 years ago,” said Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission. Hooker said an affirmative vote would be “a signal to other counties” to proceed with expansion.
“It’s very significant for the region,” said Chris Tomlinson, interim executive director of the ATL Board – the new regional agency responsible for transit funding and planning in metro Atlanta. He praised the Gwinnett transit study that led to the referendum, calling it “a good blueprint for other counties.”
Though early voting continues, Election Day is just a week away. If the questions asked during Monday’s discussion are an indication, the powers that be in metro Atlanta are worried the Gwinnett referendum will fail. They wanted to know what happens next if voters reject the transit measure and why the election is being held in March instead of November, when many believe high voter turnout would have assured its passage.
The four panelists – including Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash and MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker – aren’t expecting a runaway victory. As the AJC’s Tyler Estep reports, they predicted victory by a fairly slim margin.