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Gwinnett County Voters Oppose Plan For MARTA Expansion

Gwinnett County's referendum Tuesday asked if voters wanted to authorize a contract with MARTA and impose a 1 percent sales tax for transit expansion.
Gwinnett County's referendum Tuesday asked if voters wanted to authorize a contract with MARTA and impose a 1 percent sales tax for transit expansion.
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE
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Updated at 1:20 p.m.

A contract with Atlanta’s public transportation provider that would have brought a significant expansion of mass transit was voted down by a long-resistant county Tuesday.

Gwinnett County’s referendum asked voters if they wanted to authorize a contract with MARTA and impose a 1 percent sales tax for transit expansion projects in the county just north of the city.

Unofficial results from the county’s board of elections show that just over 54 percent of the nearly 92,000 votes cast opposed the measure.

Advocates said approval would have helped alleviate the area’s notorious traffic problems and air pollution from cars idling in rush-hour gridlock.

Some critics opposed the idea of a countywide tax for a transit system only some residents would use.

While the historically white, affluent suburban county has long resisted a transit connection to the racially diverse center of Atlanta — voters there previously rejected joining MARTA in 1971 and 1990 — Gwinnett County has transformed considerably in recent decades.

Between 1990 and 2016, Gwinnett grew from roughly 353,000 residents to 920,000, while the proportion of non-Hispanic white residents dropped from 89 percent to 39 percent.

But hopes among some transit advocates that demographic changes would lead to different results in a MARTA vote were dashed by Tuesday’s decisive results.

The referendum came on the heels of a major transit proposal passed by the Georgia Legislature last year and signed by former Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.

The legislation created a new regional authority called The ATL that is responsible for implementing transit projects across 13 metro counties, ensuring plans connect efficiently across jurisdictions. The goal is to help align a hodgepodge of independently run services that make commuting across county lines using mass transit exceedingly difficult.

Gwinnett’s no vote Tuesday was one of the first public rebukes of the new, grand transit plan by local voters.

A yes vote would have set in motion a long-term transit expansion plan including rail and bus services, built on top of existing Gwinnett County Transit routes, that would have linked the county to Atlanta and other points in the existing MARTA network.