Right now, Gwinnett County voters are being asked to decide whether or not to approve a proposed MARTA expansion. CBS46 is taking a deeper dive into the issue and what the outcome of the vote means not only for Gwinnett County but for the region. Can Atlanta be a world class city, reaching for world class events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, bidding for deals like the Amazon HQ2, without having a world class mass transit system for our residents and visitors? Is Atlanta on the right track?
GWINNETT COUNTY, GA (CBS46) It's been a years-long process to get to this point: a ballot measure asking Gwinnett County voters to say yes to MARTA.
By the year 2040, half a million more people are expected to call Gwinnett County home, pushing its population to between 1.3 and 1.5 million. That will give it the distinction of being the most populated county in Georgia.
Gwinnett County also expects to be home to half a million jobs.
So county leaders have matched the projected growth of the next 25 years with a 30-year transit plan.
It's a plan that has people getting out of their cars and into public transit.
In her State of the County address, Gwinnett County Chairman Charlotte Nash said, "Roads alone cannot provide enough mobility choices now and in the future."
County leaders say MARTA is the answer to improving traffic now, and down the road.
And they say they've got the right combination of options to make it work, with only a small increase in taxes to get it done.
Gwinnett's board of Commissioners and MARTA's Board of Directors reached a deal last year that hands control of the county's transit system to MARTA. But it needs voter approval.
Today, the MARTA rail line ends at the Doraville stop in Gwinnett County.
If Gwinnett County voters say yes to the plan, the expansion would add about five miles of tracks to Norcross.
There, they would build a transit hub.
From the trains, commuters could transfer onto another option, other than getting behind the wheel: they would be able to take a bus in a dedicated rapid bus lane. It's called "BRT." The busses get their own lanes and traffic signals, allowing them to bypass other traffic, just like trains can.
Alan Chapman, the Gwinnett County Transportation Director, tells CBS46 News that they felt BRT was one of the best options for easing congestion. And different parts of the county need different solutions; this MARTA expansion is not being treated like a one-size-fits-all fix to the traffic woes.
"There are different modes of transit that are more appropriate for different areas, so in the closer areas, it may be more local service routes or BRT type routes, and then in the outer reaches of the county, we have more express commuter bus service," Chapman says.
In every county that MARTA serves, it is funded by a 1-percent sales tax collected in those counties: Fulton (including the city of Atlanta), Clayton, and Dekalb. That tax is set to expire in 2057. Atlanta voters approved an additional .5% MARTA sales tax in November 2016.
The sales tax would be the same in Gwinnett: an additional 1%. It's 6% today; it would go up to 7% if the referendum passes. That would start April 1, and it would expire in 2057.
Just like it isn't just Gwinnett County residents driving on the roads, it isn't just Gwinnett County residents who'd help pay for the fix. About 30% of the sales tax collected in the county comes from people who live elsewhere.
That penny tax is estimated to bring in $152.1 million in 2019. Over 30 years, it would bring in an estimated $5.4 billion.
The money collected in Gwinnett County must be spent to benefit the county.
The transportation plan would also get funding from the fares riders pay, and from federal and state funds.
Here's how the money would be spent:
Just one mile of track for the rail system costs $250 Million.
The planned rail expansion, from Doraville to Norcross, would cost $1.15 Billion.
The BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) has a price tag of more than $960 Million.
In all, the total is expected to cost about $3.7 Billion.
The last day of advance voting is March 15.
The special election day is March 19.