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Outcome of MARTA vote in Gwinnett signals shift to regional transit

Was Gwinnett’s straw poll on MARTA a victory or a defeat for transit?

Did the split decision in Gwinnett’s non-binding vote on a 1 percent sales tax for a MARTA expansion hurt or help plans for a regional transit system?

And was the wording of the MARTA question on Tuesday’s ballot designed to get a “no” vote?

The question on the Republican ballot was:

Would you support an extension of the MARTA Rail line into Gwinnett County, which would include an additional one-cent sales tax?

The vote was 63 percent against and 37 percent in favor.

The question on the Democratic ballot was:

Would you support a 1 percent sales tax increase to extend MARTA into Gwinnett County?

That vote was 70 percent in favor and 30 percent against.

The combined results of the straw poll show 53 percent against and 47 percent in favor.

Interestingly enough, MARTA was not involved in putting the question before Gwinnett voters. Neither was the regional Transit Planning Board. Nor was the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce or the Gwinnett County Commission.

“Contrary to popular belief, MARTA had nothing to do with it,” said Beverly Scott, MARTA’s general manager. “If I had been able to ask the question, I would have asked it differently.”

So who decided to put the question before voters?

“If you find that out, I would love to know,” said Chuck Warbington, executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.

So who was behind the straw poll?

“I have no idea except to say it was a Republican Party and a Democratic Party question,” Commission Chairman Charles Bannister said. “It didn’t come from me.”

Warbington believed putting the word “MARTA” on the ballot was done to get a negative response. “The intent was to get people to shut up about transit,” Warbington said. “But it ended up backfiring on them.”

In Warbington’s mind, the combined vote lost by only 3 percentage points even with MARTA as part of the question and with no specifics on where the rail would go and how the money would be allocated. “Nobody knew what they were voting on,” he said.

Cheryl King, staff director of the Transit Planning Board, said her personal view is that the Gwinnett ballot questions actually had two questions in one. Do you support rail in Gwinnett? And do you want MARTA to run it?

“When you put them together, you confuse the issue,” she said. “This is not about MARTA. This is about how we are going to address our congestion problems.”

Currently, the Transit Planning Board is working on a new governance structure for a regional transit system. The configuration and the name of MARTA could change in that proposal.

Scott said as the region’s transit footprint expands and new funding partners emerge, “there will be a modified governance structure.”

What’s most important in Scott’s mind is for the region to have an integrated transit system no matter what it’s called or configured. “We will not wind up being the people holding this region back from moving forward,” Scott said.

Bannister, who supports the Transit Planning Board’s Concept 3 plan for Gwinnett, said voters have said they want rail but not MARTA as it is currently structured.

The vote did show that Gwinnett’s opposition to MARTA and transit has softened since 1990, when it was last on the ballot. That proposal failed overwhelmingly with a 70 percent to 30 percent vote.

Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, said the vote shows the impact of $4-a-gallon gasoline, as well as traffic problems.

“I’m surprised that the way the ballot was worded that it came out as well as it did,” Williams said. “But commuters are having to reconsider the way that they get to work.”

So, once again, who did put the question on the ballot and what was the motive?

Greg Howard, chairman of the Gwinnett Republican Party, had the answer.

“We did that,” Howard said. “This is one of the best ways to see how the citizens feel.”

Howard, who called himself “pro-transit,” said he used to be a regular MARTA rider when he lived in DeKalb County.

But he acknowledged that he is uncomfortable with the current governance and operation of the transit system. And he believes that MARTA by another name would still be MARTA.

Still, Howard said the question was not designed to get a “no” vote or to skew the outcome.

“I wanted to see if there was acceptance in the community,” Howard said.

The final question: Was the Gwinnett vote a victory or a loss for regional transit?

Howard’s take: “I think it did a little better than I was expecting.”

Permalink | Comments (22) | Post your comment | Categories: Column


By Grow Up Gwinnett

July 20, 2008 10:40 AM | Link to this

Gwinnett’s rapid, sprawling growth without any semblance of a central business district does not at first glance seem ideal for mass transit. In spite of this, packed GRTA buses lumber down I-85 to downtown Atlanta from as far away as Discover Place. Malls, Gwinnett’s de facto main streets, would serve as ideal transit hubs.

Gwinnett Place is surrounded by largely disposable development (fast food restaurants, motels, etc.) that could be converted into something of a downtown area with a transit line. As for the crime issue, Gwinnett has managed to become a drug kidnapping hotbed without any support from MARTA.


July 20, 2008 11:20 AM | Link to this

What gives? Horrid, sprawling, car-crawling northern suburbs should be jumping at the opportunity to drop new transit lines in. They’s soon be asked to pony-up on building a friggin baseball stadium for the AAA Braves. My god. Why do you people want to live this way?

By ITPer

July 20, 2008 11:30 AM | Link to this

Gwinnett, if you want this Atlantan to come see your AAA Braves or attend an event at your Civic and “Cultural” Center, you need to provide me a way to get there other than fighting against your legions of SUVs. Same goes for you, Cobb. You stole our ballet, we’re coming after the Home Depot HQ!

By Chief Wiggum

July 20, 2008 1:18 PM | Link to this

Several thoughts. I’m not a Gwinnett Republican (North Fulton), but I can see that a lot of folks are concerned about their tax dollars being spent wisely, and that the MARTA governance is not all that efficient, and that their tax dollars would be squandered. Not sure it would work, but if the question was changed to say something like “Would you support a rail line that is run by Gwinnett officials?”, you might get more “yes” votes from Republicans.

And to “ITPer”. You seem to have a bit of a cultural arrogance, to think that the Gwinnett amenities were created to draw ITP folks out. The idea was so that OTP folks could enjoy these things and not have to go inside the perimeter. I work in the city, and one thing Ihave seen is how incompetent the city government is. I’m not giving hints about what I do, but I have had to deal with the city bureaucracy on many issues, and it always amazed me how many paper-pushers and lawyers the City of Atlanta employs. Dealing with the suburban cities is a piece of cake.

By Rick

July 20, 2008 5:00 PM | Link to this

I-85N through Gwinnett is one of the most ugly, repulsive strips of land I have ever seen in my life. MARTA (heavy rail) may not be the best solution but I would think the Gwinnett citizenry would be grappling for some type of solution to the congested mess out there. There could be radical positive transformation of that whole area. Right now, I don’t understand why people would choose to live out there. It’s just such a mess.

By Patrick

July 20, 2008 6:28 PM | Link to this

Whatever. Gwinnett can keep its Mexican drug cartels to itself, thank you.

By ITPer

July 20, 2008 6:55 PM | Link to this

If by cultural arrogance you mean that I don’t consider the Intergalactic Bead and Jewelry Show, Scrapbook Expo or Pop-Tarts presents American Idol Live (all upcoming events at the Gwinnett Center) to be the height of artistic achievement, then I guess I am guilty as charged.

By Adam

July 20, 2008 8:01 PM | Link to this

I would vote no to extending MARTA into Gwinnett. We in the city of Atlanta do not want the criminals, drug dealers, and gangs from Gwinnett having easy access to our beautiful city.

By Peaches

July 20, 2008 8:58 PM | Link to this

As long as the City of Atlanta shows the arrogant condescension of ITP’er…there won’t be regional cooperation on much of anything. Every drop of sarcasm costs the city votes on regional issues that matter. I wonder where the insecurity comes from that creates such hatred? It’s just not helpful for the city and suburbs to hate each other. While there is a general acceptance in the suburbs that they profit from a healthy Atlanta, the city seems to lack the humility necessary for reciprocity. The result…declining regional cooperation, Independent suburbs, lack of political will to address regional issues, newly formed cities on the northern arc.

By jewcowboy

July 20, 2008 10:12 PM | Link to this

The burbs have been mooching off the city for decades. Their residents come into the city and use our infrastructure, causing the residents of the city to pay for it. I already pay more than fair share for water and sewers to subsidize these leeches coming into the city for 8 hours and using our toilets then getting into their massive suvs and escaping to their lower taxes in the burbs.

I see way too many non – fulton or dekalb tags in the marta parking lot in the morning and realize they are leeching on the transit system already. You don’t want marta, fine then stop using it already and stay in your burb. If you promise to stay out of our city I promise the only time I’ll come into your burb is when I’m passing over it at 250 miles an hour at 10,000 feet on my way to a holiday. Intergalactic bead show…classic.

By ITPer

July 20, 2008 10:37 PM | Link to this

Peaches, I am flattered that you think that my comments on the Internet could sway regional planning, but my modesty tells me otherwise. I do not hate the suburbs, but hold them in the regard that a host holds a parasite. I recognize that Gwinnett’s health depends on Atlanta’s health, and also if Gwinnett refuses to cooperate then the whole beast dies. There are far more people in Gwinnett commuting to Atlanta for its employment, education and shopping opportunities than there are Atlantans commuting to Gwinnett for its dazzling array of Zaxby’s, weekly stay motels and big box stores.

By newkid

July 20, 2008 10:59 PM | Link to this

OT (off topic). Kelly Yamanouchi, thanks for the story concerning Delta’s bid to increase its flights between Atlanta and Brazil, but it seems rather a stranded story. Is there a bit of context you might provide (e.g., a description of some of the megatrends of hemispheric importance currently transpiring in Brazil) that’ll make this story worthy of note?

Many thanks.

By jewcowboy

July 20, 2008 10:59 PM | Link to this


thanks for several laughs…dazzling array of Zaxby’s. that’ll keep me giggling for a while :)

By Just Nasty and Mean

July 21, 2008 6:37 AM | Link to this

MARTA is its own worst enemy.

The nepotism, cronyism, bureaucratic, bumbling buffoons that run MARTA can’t be trusted to run a rat race much less a train system. This overladen administrative bloated, burgeoning laughable bunch of clods don’t know how to run ten trains on one-way tracks—no matter how much tax money we throw at them.

I wouldn’t vote for MARTA to pick up my trash, much less get me to work on a scheduled basis.

The only way MARTA will EVER be worth 10% of what taxpayers pay for it is to close the doors and let an outside private contractor~~ that does not have its cranium in its rectal orifice~~ start over from scratch.

By Roscoe

July 21, 2008 7:43 AM | Link to this

A little reality check for all you ITP-types who think the suburbanites leach on the city…

40% or more of the sales taxes paid in Fulton and DeKalb are paid by us OTP folks. It’s called exportability and it’s how they sell sales taxes to the voters - “we won’t have to pay all of them, other folks will…” That number comes from the City of Atlanta. (All those OTP’ers are paying the sewer tax, too, every time they eat lunch, buy a magazine, or anything else inside the perimeter.

85%+ of MARTA riders come from Fulton and DeKalb. (MARTA’s numbers). They pay the fare like everybody else. See above for what portion of the MARTA sales tax they pay…hmmm 15% of the riders, 40% of the taxes…sounds like a good deal to me.

More folks transfer off MARTA onto the other transit services than vice-versa…but they only pay the MARTA fare…

The capital funding for MARTA comes primarily from federal taxes - people in North Dakota help pay those taxes…

Sounds like a good deal to me.

What we need, of course, is a comprehensive, regionally focused, transit system that is as extensive as our road network. Throw in bike and pedestrian paths for good measure.

Let the entire region run it - not just social-work do-gooders at MARTA who created a jobs program, not a transit system.

Isn’t that what the Transit Planning Board is all about?

By Rosie

July 21, 2008 8:42 AM | Link to this

Why is it that Maria Saporta and Jay Bookman, when writing about benefits and need for MARTA, always emphasises Gwinnett, but almost never mentions Clayton or Cobb counties?

There are a lot more cars comuting into the city North on I-75/85 and South on I-75 than those that come inside the perimeter South on I-85.

By zeke

July 21, 2008 9:58 AM | Link to this

NO! NO! NO! Keep marta and the criminal scum in Atlanta, Fulton and Dekalb! Do not send them to Cobb, Gwinnett, Douglas, Forsyth, Rockdale and others to assault, rob, rape and kill!

By Melinda

July 21, 2008 10:05 AM | Link to this


no additional words are necessary

By professional skeptic

July 21, 2008 11:56 AM | Link to this

Regardless of its name, we need ONE regional transit system run by ONE regional transit authority.

Concept 3 proposed by the Transit Planning Board should be the foundation of this system, with more regional rail service to come in the future.

By newkid

July 21, 2008 5:21 PM | Link to this

Must agree with ‘professional skeptic’ and others who’ve opined that we need a single regional transit system, with some version of the Transit Planning Board’s Concept 3 as its foundation. I’ll go a bit further though. Call the thing Georgia - PAM (Piedmont Atlanta Megaregion) Transit Authority, and set in motion the prospect of a future merger with a Tennessee - PAM Transit Authority, and a South Carolina - PAM Transit Authority, etc until we’ve linked all the major corridor cities/counties in the Piedmont Atlanta Megaregion. The particulars of each state’s portion of the PAM Transit Authority could largely be determined within that state, but should also serve the broader needs of the larger megaregion. It’s time for a real REGIONAL vision for transportation; one that recognizes that our transportation needs far exceed our sense of the county or state we’ve combe to believe we owe allegiance.

By Sick of the Surburbs

July 21, 2008 5:43 PM | Link to this

Point #1

I agree 100% with all the posters who states, “Rail should be governed region wide by a single entity.” M.A.R.T.A. stands for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. As such, MARTA is the only authority with experience planning, building, and maintaining rail lines. What other entity has this experience in the State of Georgia?

MARTA does an absolutely incredibly “good” job moving its patrons from point A to point B.

As one of the only transit systems in the country to receive ZERO ($0.00) from its home state (Georgia)

With only two (Dekalb and Fulton counties) out of 28 Metropolitan Atlanta counties contributing to the funding (1% sales’ tax) for MARTA –

Still MARTA allows all other regional transit providers (CCT, GCT, C-Tran, {Soon GRTA too!}) “FREE” transfers into its rail/bus systems:

Given the constraints MARTA has to work with – Let me restate — MARTA not only does a “good” job - MARTA does a DAMN GOOD JOB!


As a resident of Cobb County: I am the proud owner of a MARTA Breeze Card. Recently, I had no one to pick me up at the airport. Instead of taking a taxi cab that would have costs close to $100 for a 45 minute ride; I chose instead to take the MARTA train HE Holmes, jump on the #30 CCT bus and was home in 1 hour, 15 minutes at a cost of $1.50.

I have been lobbying the leaders of Cobb County for years for some type of rail service. I do not see how I as a non contributor to the MARTA system should be able to ride their system so inexpensively.

I also, can not criticize, complain or comment on the way MARTA is maintained, managed or operated. Until I live in a county that fully funds a regional train/transit system-I should and do keep my mouth shut.

Point #3 As for all the MARTA “waste” & “mis-management” I hear the posters talking about – GIVE ME SOME EXAMPLES. I said this to a State representative and I will say it to you, “For every penny MARTA mis-manages and/or “wastes” – I can find one dollar the Georgia D.O.T. mis-manages and/or wastes.”

FOR EXAMPLE: Without any media attention, voting or consulting of the masses – DOT is widening I-85 south from Peachtree City exit to Newnan from 3 lanes in each direction to 4 lanes in each direction. The State continues these 4 lanes in each direction from Newnan to below Grantville. Total expansion is approximately 30 miles.

There is rarely if ever any traffic congestion on that stretch of highway. Why the expansion? How much is the cost to Cobb and Gwinnett tax payers? Who is benefiting from this road construction other than the Road contractors?

To add insult to injury in expanding I-85 South: the road contractor(s) from Newnan to Grantville elevated the road bed of the new lanes approximately 2 to 4.5’ feet above the existing two lanes. Every single bridge/overpass had to be raised by the same amount for proper vehicle clearance. This stretch of roadway is not in a flood plain. This stretch of roadway has never flooded. Why spend the money to elevate it? There are numerous other examples of DOT’s wasteful spending.

• How much are the Ramp meters costing? What will their effect on traffic be?

• How much did the courts recently award two DOT employees who were sexually discriminated against?

• What is the true budget deficit at the D.O.T.? Is it $7 million or closer to $1 Billion tax payer dollars?

These are a miniscule few examples of Georgia tax payer dollars WASTED and/mis-managed! Thank you Georgia D.O.T.

By Sean Casey

July 23, 2008 9:47 AM | Link to this

The question should have been posed:

Would you rather pay a 1% sales tax to pay for mass transit or pay a toll to drive your car into town that will pay for mass transit?

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