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ATL board approves Gwinnett transit plan, next step in November vote

Gwinnett County Transit express buses depart for downtown Atlanta from the Express Bus Park and Ride lot at Sugarloaf Mills in Lawrenceville. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO
Gwinnett County Transit express buses depart for downtown Atlanta from the Express Bus Park and Ride lot at Sugarloaf Mills in Lawrenceville. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

A regional board has given the OK to Gwinnett County’s transit proposal, another step toward getting transit expansion on the ballot in November.

The ATL board signed off on Gwinnett's proposed project list Wednesday, which includes 99 projects that would cost an estimated $6.7 billion if all were to be built.

The county doesn't intend to build all 99, and in fact has included more than it would construct because leaders still haven't decided whether they want to expand heavy rail into Gwinnett.

The proposed project list includes an expansion of the MARTA Gold line from Doraville up to the Gwinnett Place Mall — considered an aspirational part of the plan — but also offers enhanced bus-based alternatives in case leaders decide not to move forward with MARTA at all.

Scott Haggard, the ATL Board’s director of government affairs, said the county will have to choose a “financially constrained subset” of the projects before asking voters to approve any transit expansion this fall. Including operating costs, the full slate of projects would cost $10.1 billion.

That’s a $4 billion increase from the last Gwinnett plan the board approved. Without a heavy rail extension from a planned transit hub at Jimmy Carter Boulevard to Gwinnett Place Mall, the cost drops to $8.05 billion to build and operate.

County commissioners will meet with Gwinnett mayors Thursday to update them on the proposal. Then, they will have to go back to the ATL board with a list of specific projects that will be on the ballot, if they decide to move forward with a vote. Commissioners have said previously that the decision needs to be made by July 21 in order to get on the November ballot.

Voters in 2019 rejected a proposed MARTA expansion in the county in a special election. Since then, the county has spent time considering other options for expanding transit. Of the 99 proposed projects, 94 are in some way different from the original proposal, known as Connect Gwinnett.

The ATL board received 59 comments in response to the amended plan. Haggard said 33 supported it, 10 supported transit but suggested changes to the proposal and 16 were opposed to what Gwinnett had proposed.