Gwinnett County Transit buses travel through the bus loading area at the Doraville MARTA Transit Station in Doraville, Tuesday, February 26, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Will Gwinnett have another transit referendum in 2020?

Conversation at a Tuesday morning meeting suggested some Gwinnett officials could be targeting November 2020 for another transit referendum.

That’s far from a sure thing, though, and plenty of questions remain — including what exactly county residents would be voting on.

The Gwinnett Board of Commissioners received an update Tuesday on the work of the county’s new transit review committee, a 13-member group charged with looking over the county’s existing transit expansion plan and making recommendations on how it could be improved.

The committee asked for its deadline to be extended until the end of January, giving it an extra month to work and prepare recommendations.

District 1 Commissioner Jace Brooks, a Republican who recently announced he won’t be seeking re-election next fall, asked if the committee’s extension would maintain a viable timeline “for a November referendum” on transit.

He was told it would.

The review committee was formed largely as a reaction to Gwinnett’s most recent referendum on transit expansion, a March special election that failed by an 8-point margin. The committee’s not-so-unspoken goal is to try and make the transit plan — which currently calls for a passenger rail extension into the Norcross area and much more — more palatable for voters.

Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, who spearheaded the transit push, has made no secret of her desire to have another referendum. She’s previously suggested that a new vote would be held during a “big election” to draw as many voters as possible, but has stopped short of suggesting a specific time frame.

She took a similar stance Tuesday, saying Gwinnett needs more transit options and a referendum-approved sales tax is the only way to “do any kind of substantial improvement.” But the chairman, who is retiring next year after her term expires, batted away several questions about the possibility of a vote in 2020.

Other colleagues were less coy.

Democrat Commissioner Marlene Fosque said during the meeting that “hopefully something will happen in 2020.”

Commissioner Ben Ku, another Democrat, called a November referendum the best option but said “it will depend on what the committee recommends.”

The review committee has thus far held seven meetings and has two more scheduled. Meetings are open to the public but attendance has generally been sparse.

County officials and outside consultants have gotten the committee up to speed on the current transit plan and broken down potential funding scenarios for different options.

Moving forward, the committee will focus on three potential scenarios: one that keeps the rail line into Norcross but seeks to fill other holes in the plan; one that includes an extra rail line to the Gwinnett Place Mall area; and one that removes rail altogether and beefs up other options.

Financial constraints are being based on revenues from the same 30-year, 1 percent sales tax that would’ve been enacted had March’s referendum passed — a total of somewhere north of $5 billion. Scenarios using lesser sales taxes are also being considered.

“The more rail you put in, the less of anything else you can do,” committee chairwoman Laurie McClain said. “Because there’s only so much money.”

McClain declined to guess which way the committee may be leaning but said she will have a better idea after its next meeting.

That meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday at OneStop Norcross, located at 5030 Georgia Belle Court in Norcross.

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