Gwinnett commissioners on track for fall rail referendum

Gwinnett County commissioners remain on track to put transit expansion on the November ballot, but they did so by delaying a final decision about exactly what will be in the referendum.

The commissioners will vote Tuesday to approve a comprehensive project list that will be sent to the ATL board for approval. Any projects that go before voters in November must be on that list and be approved by the 16-member board of business leaders and government officials.

The list commissioners decided on Thursday, though, has more options than they can afford.

They chose to include what they called an aspirational heavy rail MARTA extension to Gwinnett Place Mall in their proposal, while also moving forward with a transit plan that assumes there will be no heavy rail at all in the county. A bus that connects Gwinnett County to Athens also made the list.

"But we're going to have to whittle it down to a plan," Commissioner Ben Ku said. "How do we do that, and when?"

The answer will come over the next few weeks, as commissioners continue to debate whether or not to expand heavy rail to a proposed transit hub at Jimmy Carter Boulevard. If they don’t, there will be more money for additional local bus routes, bike and pedestrian improvements and increased bus frequency. But rerouted lines will have to connect to the Chamblee and Doraville MARTA stations if there isn’t one in Gwinnett.

The ATL board has already approved the county's Connect Gwinnett plan, which voters rejected last year. Those routes are also still options for county commissioners to incorporate into their final plan.

Charlotte Nash, the chair of the county commission, said she didn’t want to take options off the table yet. But the time will come soon when commissioners will have to “face the facts” about what they can afford, she said.

“What we’re trying to get to right now is a project list that includes more than what could be on a referendum,” she said. “We’re putting off the ultimate decision until a little later in the process.”

Once ATL board members have given their blessing to the “highest version” of the plan, commissioners can decide to send less robust offerings to voters said Alan Chapman, the director of Gwinnett’s Department of Transportation.

“That decision will be made later,” Nash said. “Not today.”

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