Notoriously car-clogged Gwinnett County took an ambitious step this week toward giving its nearly 1 million citizens transportation options that don’t involve getting behind the wheel of personal vehicles.
But still, fans of regional transit expansion could be disheartened.
The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $17 billion (yes, billion) transit expansion plan on Tuesday that would require buy-in from voters who’d be asked to fund the measure with a new penny sales tax, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
The package has been forwarded to the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority—or the ATL, the agency tasked with coordinating transit options across a 13-county area—for review.
Per Gwinnett’s transit strategy, Georgia’s second-most populous county would not see MARTA branching into the northeast OTP metro; that was one facet of transit referendums that failed in Gwinnett in both 2019 and 2020—the latter, a $12 billion plan, by a razor-thin margin.
Instead, Gwinnett would make big bets on buses and microtransit, an on-demand, shared-service operating with shuttles and vans that allows people to order rides via phones and pay $3 per trip. Gwinnett currently operates microtransit but in a limited capacity.
As the AJC outlines, Gwinnett’s $17 billion transit boost would:
Expand microtransit by 2033 across the entire county.
Extend and reconfigure bus routes. Additions would include a bus-rapid-transit line from Doraville up to Lawrenceville, the county seat, and high-frequency buses elsewhere.
Create express bus routes from Snellville in southeast Gwinnett and Mall of Georgia in the far north down to Atlanta’s airport.
Allow transit services to operate on Sundays, which they currently don’t.
Add transfer facilities throughout Gwinnett.
Commissioners spent a year and ½ collecting community input and compiling the plan. One commissioner, Ben Ku, told the newspaper the broad goal is to create a scalable transit system that allows Gwinnettians to travel anywhere in the county without a car, setting a blueprint for suburban transit in the metro that could hoist Gwinnett onto “the world stage” when it comes to doing transit right.
While its growth rate isn’t comparable to much of the gangbusters 1980s and ’90s, Gwinnett still remains among the region's leaders in terms of adding population.
According to the Atlanta Regional Commission’s 2023 population estimates released last month, Gwinnett packed on another 13,510 people in the year ending in April, second only to Fulton County’s 18,500.
Gwinnett also finished second in terms of building permits issued for both single-family and multifamily homes (5,350 permits), trailing only the City of Atlanta (11,850).
The ARC pegs Gwinnett’s population today at about 997,000.
As a next step, the ATL transit authority will take several month to evaluate how Gwinnett’s ambitions align with the agency’s regional plan. Should the plan pass that bar, Gwinnett officials would have the option of placing the penny sales tax question for necessary funding on November 2024 ballots, during the next presidential election.
Is Gwinnett’s bus-and-shuttle transit plan a good start for fixing traffic and mobility woes? Is it a panacea? Will it be approved by the ATL? Time will tell.
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