MARTA in Gwinnett? Candidates weigh in

Mass transit was a hot topic at a Gwinnett County candidate forum in Peachtree Corners Monday night.

Candidates for several federal, state and local offices spoke at a forum sponsored by the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association. For County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash and challenger Jim Shealey, the discussion kept coming back to MARTA passenger rail service or something like it.

Shealey, the chairman of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, supports some sort of rail transit. To keep taxpayer money in the county, Shealey said he would prefer Gwinnett develop its own rail service instead of joining MARTA.

Nonetheless, he said Gwinnett voters made a "terrible choice" when they last rejected MARTA in 1990. He said noted the county's population has nearly tripled since then, and traffic has also gotten worse.

“Now we have 900,000 people in Gwinnett County,” he said. “We’re still using the same transportation goal that they had in 1990.”

Nash, A Republican first elected in 2011, said Gwinnett County can’t afford to focus on one form of transportation to the exclusion of others.

She said voters armed with all the facts – including costs and timetables for different options – should decide whether rail service or some other mass transit option is right for Gwinnett. She said that conversation will take place as the county updates its long-range transportation plan – a process that will be completed next year.

“It’s definitely something to consider,” she said of rail service. “But it needs to be in the hands of the voters of Gwinnett County.”