Gwinnett’s historic MARTA referendum is officially on

In the middle of Tuesday’s long, sometimes contentious Gwinnett County election board meeting, there was a moment that on any other day would’ve been, well, momentous. 

The board formally called for a special election to be held March 19 — an election in which the sole question before voters will be if they want to officially join MARTA.

The price of membership: a new 1 percent sales tax for the next several decades. 

The plan: greatly expanded transit services, including heavy rail to the Norcross area and, maybe, Gwinnett Place.

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The Gwinnett County commission voted in August to hold the referendum in March, much to the chagrin of transit advocates that wanted it held during last week’s mid-term elections. The MARTA board accepted the tentative contract with Gwinnett a month later. 

But Gwinnett’s elections board still had to formally call the special election, which it did Tuesday during a marathon meeting that had the primary focus of addressing provisional ballots cast in last week’s election. The results of that election, which has been the focus of much scrutiny,  still haven’t been certified.

One recent poll raised questions about Gwinnett County’s appetite for transit, to which the suburb has been historically averse. But Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash helped create the legislation that allows Gwinnett to call a referendum, and she has been bullish on the odds of it passing. 

A survey released earlier this month by the Atlanta Regional Commission found that more than half of Gwinnett residents asked were willing to pay more taxes for transit expansion.

The standalone MARTA election is likely to cost $500,000 or more.

The first black and Asian commissioners were elected in county history Tuesday night.

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