Former Gov. Nathan Deal said Friday that he wants Gwinnett County residents to vote “yes” for a public transportation partnership with MARTA.
Deal said adding more transit options — including heavy rail connected to MARTA’s Gold Line — is “what’s right for Gwinnett County.”
His letter of support came via email from the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce. Deal, who departed office in January, is the highest-profile Georgia Republican to endorse the referendum.
Deal said public transportation is increasingly a key factor in attracting businesses interested in relocating to or expanding in Georgia.
“The Gwinnett MARTA proposal answers the call to address the gravest threat to Gwinnett’s future: traffic congestion,” Deal said in the letter. “As governor, I consistently sat across from CEOs who were considering a relocation or expansion in Georgia. In each meeting with a prospect considering the metro area of our state, the first two questions were ‘do you have transit?’ and ‘how far is this location from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport?’
“More and more, large, high-paying employers would not even consider locations within metro areas that don’t offer robust transit options for their employees. Despite its many offerings, Gwinnett wasn’t considered eligible by many of our 818,000 jobs we created over the last eight years in the state!”
That echoes Deal’s statements when he signed House Bill 930, which formed the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority and allowed counties to use sales taxes to fund transit construction and operations. At the May signing ceremony for the new transit law, Deal said the legislation would be key in alleviating traffic congestion and accommodating the millions of new residents metro Atlanta is expected to attract in the near future.
“They are coming to Georgia, and we might as well get ready for them,” Deal said.
If passed, the plan would nearly triple the number of local bus routes and add a heavy rail station in Norcross, connecting Gwinnett County to the Gold Line. Bus rapid transit, rapid bus routes and additional express commuter buses are also part of the plan, which spans 30 years. Implementation would begin in April if the referendum passes.
Deal credited Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash for her “leadership” in causing the referendum to happen. Nash and other commissioners have been advised by lawyers not to publicly express an opinion about the referendum, but she thanked Deal for the endorsement late Friday.
“I am very pleased with the endorsement from a visionary like former Governor Deal,” Nash said in a statement. “No one knows the competitive nature of attracting and keeping good jobs for Georgians like he does. And he certainly understands the personal pain of traveling I-85. Thank you, Nathan Deal, for your support.”
The state Democratic Party has endorsed the referendum, as has former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. The county’s Democratic Party is coordinating with pro-transit groups on get-out-the-vote efforts and local legislators including state Rep. Brenda Lopez, D-Norcross, have held town halls to educate constituents about the transit plan.
AJC’s COMPLETE COVERAGE
Gwinnett voters will go the polls on March 19 in a historic special election that could change the face of metro Atlanta’s suburbs. Residents there will decide if Georgia’s second most populous county will join the MARTA system and chip in a new 1 percent sales tax to pay for billions of dollars in transit improvements.
A successful referendum in Gwinnett may ignite action for more mass transit in other metro Atlanta counties that have long been resistant to the idea.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will provide comprehensive coverage leading up to the vote and on Election Day. Our reporters will help readers understand the issues, the key players, what’s at stake, and provide information for voters to make an informed decision at the ballot box.
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