Gwinnett County transit vote fails; recount possible

07/31/2020 - Lawrenceville, Georgia - The exterior of the Gwinnett County Transit Sugarloaf Mills Park and Ride, located at 1905 North Brown Road, in Lawrenceville, Friday, July 31, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
07/31/2020 - Lawrenceville, Georgia - The exterior of the Gwinnett County Transit Sugarloaf Mills Park and Ride, located at 1905 North Brown Road, in Lawrenceville, Friday, July 31, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Gwinnett County voters last week rejected a $12.1 billion proposal that would have expanded transit in the county. It’s the second time in less than two years residents declined to add more transit options.

The failure of the transit referendum by just over 1,000 votes — out of nearly 400,000 cast — falls within the margin of a possible recount. Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said Friday she had not yet asked for information on how to request a recount.

“If we choose to take this step, the entire Board will be involved in making the decision,” Nash said in an email.

Once the votes were certified Monday, Nash did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment about her plans for a possible recount.

The margin of defeat this time was much closer than it was in March 2019, when transit was alone on the ballot. Last year, the Connect Gwinnett measure lost with 54% of voters opposed to the expansion. Just more than 92,000 voters cast ballots in that race.

Officials made a number of changes before again putting a proposal that would have levied a penny transit sales tax before voters.

Most notably, they limited MARTA’s involvement in the 2020 proposal. While a heavy rail MARTA line would have extended service from Doraville to Jimmy Carter Boulevard, the rest of the system would continue to be operated by Gwinnett County.

The 2020 plan also sped up the timeline for building out transit, after residents complained the 2019 proposal would take too long to implement. And it upgraded some lines and added others, increasing connections.

But for Dorothy Shaw, who lives in Snellville, the improvements didn’t go far enough.

Shaw, 86, said she’s in favor of transit. But the 10-year timeframe would take too long, she said, and she didn’t think the plan did enough to bring transit to her area. She voted against it, as she did in 2019.

“I just wanted it to be better,” Shaw said. “That’s the way I felt before.”

Nicole Love Hendrickson, the newly elected chairwoman of the Gwinnett County commission, has said transit remains a priority for the county. While Hendrickson said she does not have a concrete idea for what do do next, she said the commission will have to revisit mobility in the county.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge if that does not pass,” Hendrickson said of the transit referendum before the final votes were tallied.

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