Organizing Begins to Bring MARTA to Gwinnett County
Photograph by Gloria Tatum
(APN) ATLANTA — Following a recent poll that 63 percent of respondents are saying yes to MARTA service being extended into Gwinnett County, environmental activists and Democrats are among those beginning to organize for a possible future referendum.
On Tuesday, July 28, 2015, Art Sheldon with the Sierra Club’s Greater Gwinnett chapter attended the Gwinnett Democrats to discuss next steps in bringing MARTA to Gwinnett.
Gwinnett has seen rapid growth and changing demographics that has made it more diverse, with a twenty percent Latino, 26 percent Black, and eleven percent Asian population that is more accepting of mass transit.
On the other hand, there are some older, more conservative, and White voters, who do not believe rail is an efficient use of tax money, and who are not comfortable riding MARTA.
“People are coming from other parts of the country where riding transit is not a big deal. We are trending toward younger people riding transit, so we have to prepare for that future,” Sheldon told Atlanta Progressive News in a phone interview.
According to the survey, the highest support for MARTA was in Districts 2 and 3, which represent the southern and eastern parts of the county.
A light rail line would probably extend from the Doraville MARTA station to possible stations at Indian Trail, Beaver Ruin, and up to the Civil Center area at Sugarloaf and Satellite Boulevard.
“We are talking about one and a half billion dollars to build a light rail system from Doraville to the Civic Center. The roads can’t handle the traffic and to widen the highways, you are talking billions of dollars also. Then in a few years they will be clogged up again. It is not a long-term solution and people are beginning to realize that, and that’s why there is more support for transit,” Sheldon said to APN.
The Board of Commissions would have to approve putting the referendum on the ballot and the entire County voting for the MARTA extension.
That may not happen until 2017 or 2018 because an education SPLOST referendum (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) will be on the ballot this year. Then next year, in 2016, the County may renew another SPLOST.
“We don’t want to have two votes and two SPLOST’s at the same time: that’s some of the reason why we may not have MARTA on the ballot next year. We don’t want to be voting on two raises of taxes,” Sheldon said.
Sheldon explained one of the ideas to get people talking about transit now is the Great Exchange or Gr8Exchange.com happening August 24 to the 28, 2015. It is a week long conversation on the future of Gwinnett.
Community leaders will encourage residents to participate in one of hundreds of hosted conversations in coffee shops, restaurants and in homes about transportation issues and what they would like to see happen in Gwinnett County.
The data gathered from the Gr8Exchange will be made available to any group including the county government and cities. The feedback will be used to show trends of what types of transportation residents want.
“We agreed with his presentation… We are losing jobs, people can’t get to jobs, and it’s holding the entire region back,” Ilene Johnson, Communication Chair, Gwinnett Democratic Party, told APN.
“Business are leaving like NCR; we spent a lot of money to recruit NCR and now they are moving into Midtown [Atlanta],” Johnson said.
“The biggest thing we feel is needed is a change in leadership on the Gwinnett County Commission and we are going to work to get that,” Johnson said
“That’s what they did in Clayton County, but they had a more favorable Board of Commissioners. The Chairman ran on a pro-MARTA, pro-transportation platform. We don’t have that, but we are looking to recruit new leadership and new representation on the Board of Commissioners,” Johnson said.