Early surveys suggest Gwinnett is open to a transit-funding sales tax

In this 2013 file photo, a Gwinnett County Transit bus s pulls away from the transit center in Duluth. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

In this 2013 file photo, a Gwinnett County Transit bus s pulls away from the transit center in Duluth. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

It’s just the beginning and it ain’t scientific. But it ain’t exactly insignificant, either.

The first round of surveys in Gwinnett County's transportation development study are in and, if about 3,700 folks are any indication, residents appear ready and willing to pay a sales tax to fund expanded transit offerings.

What, specifically, those offerings may be remain to be seen, and there's still a long way to go toward the goal of having a countywide transit referendum in 2018. But the early answers to the question about a potential sales tax to fund transit expansion has officials feeling optimistic.

“The public outreach results were encouraging,” Gwinnett Department of Transportation Director Alan Chapman said this week. “I don’t know that we’ll know for sure how the public feels about it until we do [more formal] polling … But if our citizens and our voters want to expand the system, we want to be ready to go with it.”

Gwinnett launched its transit development planning study earlier this year with the goal of determining what might be the county's most feasible short-, medium- and long-term transit options. Transportation officials hope to make formal recommendations on those options by the end of the first quarter of 2018.

Cristina Pastore from consulting firm Kimley-Horn briefs Gwinnett officials Tuesday on the county’s transit development plan. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

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There is a lot more work to be done and a lot more public input to gather, including a scientific poll, officials said. But Chapman and a representative from consulting firm Kimley-Horn shared initial findings during a recent briefing with the county’s Board of Commissioners.

The first round of surveys took input from 3,674 county residents, more than three-fourths of which were not current riders of Gwinnett County Transit. About 65 percent of the total respondents said they would “strongly support” or “somewhat support” a new sales tax to fund transit expansion.

Those surveyed were far less enthusiastic about the possibility of increasing property taxes to pay for transit (a measure that could, in theory, be taken without a public referendum). Less than one-third said that they would support such a move.

“You look at the dollar figures involved, and you look at the reaction to increasing property taxes … and it’s a pretty easy leap to get to the point that there will be a referendum involved with this at some point,” Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said.

Gwinnett County Transit currently consists of six local bus routes that run almost exclusively on the western end of the county, as well as five express routes to locations inside I-285. It serves about 5,000 people a day.

The survey results released this week said more than 76 percent of non-transit riders agreed that some type of expansion is needed.

How a referendum on any such expansion would be framed — and whether it would mention any specific modes of transit — will be shaped by the results of the ongoing study, officials said.

“At this time I think we really don’t have clarity on that, in terms of exactly how the referendum would be structured,” Nash said. “But I’m pretty clear on the fact that sales tax is going to be the primary funding stream option.”

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