Transportation — and protests — dominate Gwinnett board meeting

A protester holds a sign calling for the resignation of embattled Gwinnett Commissioner Tommy Hunter during Tuesday afternoon’s Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners meeting. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

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A protester holds a sign calling for the resignation of embattled Gwinnett Commissioner Tommy Hunter during Tuesday afternoon’s Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners meeting. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

Transportation was the running theme of Tuesday afternoon’s Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners meeting.

That and, as is now customary, protests.

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RAW VIDEO: Gwinnett chair Charlotte Nash speaks with "racist pig" protesters

The board — short one commissioner with Tommy Hunter, the target of those protests, out of town — approved several transportation- or transit-related agenda items.

It voted to accept nearly $6 million in federal funds for land acquisition related to a project that would create a new I-85 interchange near Ga. 324/Gravel Springs Road. The interchange will be about halfway between I-85's exits for Ga. 20 and Hamilton Mill Road, and has been touted as another way to access the Mall of Georgia area.

Gwinnett County Department of Transportation Director Alan Chapman said the land acquisition process is expected to begin later this summer, and construction is slated to start sometime in the second half of 2018.

Commissioners also voted to add about $135,000 to a $1.65 million contract already approved for the expansion of a park and ride lot at Sugarloaf Mills mall in Lawrenceville. The expanded lot will allow Gwinnett County Transit and the Georgia Regional Transit Authority to add new bus routes to the Emory University and Peachtree Center areas, respectively.

In addition, the board approved a three-year, $309,000 extension of an agreement with MARTA that allows Gwinnett County Transit riders to use Breeze cards to pay for fares.

Hunter, who has been the target of protests and calls for resignation since a January Facebook posts in which he called U.S. Rep. John Lewis a "racist pig"and referred to Democrats as "Demonrats," was out of town Tuesday and missed the day's meetings.

That didn’t stop two dozen or so protesters from showing up for the 13th straight meeting. About half of them spoke during the open public comment period.

“I notice Tommy Hunter is not here today,” one regular protester, Claudette Forbes, said. “I just hope and pray he never returns.”

Tuesday's meeting came a day after Hunter declined to submit a formal response to the ethics complaint against him, which alleges that his post about Lewis and others violated the county's ethics ordinance.

The ethics board investigating the complaint will hold its next meeting May 12.