Gwinnett calls meeting to vote on MARTA contract, transit referendum

MARTA has proposed 21 miles of light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit and other improvements.

MARTA has proposed 21 miles of light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit and other improvements.

Gwinnett's Board of Commissioners has called a special meeting to vote on adding a transit referendum to November's ballots.

The new meeting — which will be held at 8 a.m. Wednesday — will also involved Gwinnett voting on a contract between the county and MARTA, a necessary step before Gwinnett can add a referendum to Nov. 6’s general election ballots.

The referendum would ask Gwinnettians if they want to opt into a 30-year, one-cent sales tax to fund transit expansion, which would be administered by MARTA.

The expansion would likely include heavy rail.

New legislation adopted this year gave Gwinnett — and several other metro counties — the ability to ask voters to approve a new transit-funding sales tax. The legislation creates a regional transit authority called The ATL, but that agency doesn’t form until Jan. 1.

If Gwinnett County wants to vote on expanding transit during November’s general election, it has to vote on formally joining MARTA.

Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash has described the would-be arrangement as “a transit tax that would be spent through a contract with MARTA.”

Specifics regarding the potential contract between Gwinnett and MARTA were not immediately available Monday afternoon.

MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe declined to comment in detail on Gwinnett’s announcement, but said, “We very much look forward to the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting.”

In mid-July, the county commission approved a transit development plan that is aimed at guiding Gwinnett’s future projects.

Original drafts of the plan included recommendations for a 4.5-mile heavy rail extension from Doraville into Gwinnett and the area near I-85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard. The plan's final version suggested extending nearly seven more miles of heavy rail from the potential transit hub near Jimmy Carter all the way up to the Gwinnett Place Mall area, where the county has already acquired land to expand its existing transit station.

While every other potential project in the $5 billion plan — which also includes several "bus rapid transit" lines and greatly expanded local bus service — has potential revenue streams identified, the longer rail line does not.

Despite some resistance, the five-member Board of Commissioners appears to have the majority of votes necessary to call a referendum.

Nash, who has helped lead the transit charge, is a presumed “yes” vote, and commissioners Jace Brooks and Lynette Howard have said they would vote affirmatively if the county’s contract with MARTA is suitable.

Commissioner John Heard, meanwhile, issued a statement last week blasting MARTA and saying he would vote "no" on a referendum.

Asked via text message if he had any thoughts on the possible referendum, Commissioner Tommy Hunter responded as follows on Monday: “Nah.”

Wednesday morning’s meeting will be held at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville. It is open to the public.

Staff writer David Wickert contributed to this story.

The more than $5 billion potential road map for new transit, for the first time, includes commuter rail service.