Gwinnett County citizens voted against joining Metro Atlanta’s Transit Authority Tuesday night.
Nearly 92,000 voters turned up at the polls for the special election and 54 percent of them voted no on the referendum.
It would’ve allowed the county to create a 1 percent sales tax for the next 30 years to fund public transit expansion and join into the MARTA system. County officials said that could've created $5.4 billion in funding.
Brian Robinson with Go Gwinnett, a group advocating for the referendum, said expanding public transit is something the county must deal with as more people move there.
“This issue isn’t going away,” Robinson said. “Traffic in Gwinnett is not going away. Congestion isn’t going away. The need for this will be here and will only get worse as Gwinnett adds 500,000 more residents over the next 30 years.”
He said this is an issue the county must revisit and having a referendum on the ballot during a general election could lead to a more favorable turnout.
“The campaign effort on this came after the general election,” Robinson said.
The vote came a few months after a bruising gubernatorial race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican winner Gov. Brian Kemp.
“Everyone had to wait on the general election to end. This was a very short period of time to have a conversation with a million-person county about a project of generational importance. It needed more time for that communication.”
The latest census data shows there are 920,260 Gwinnett residents and more than half of them are registered voters.
Although Gwinnett County commissioners approved a contract with MARTA last year, it still needed approval from county residents. The Connect Gwinnett Transit Plan called for an addition of heavy rail, more flexible para-transit and bus rapid transit among other things.
This marks the third time county residents have decided against joining MARTA. In both the '70s and '90s votes on the idea failed.
County Chairman Charlotte Nash spoke in the past on the issue saying the county’s growing population is an added reason to expand the public transit system.
“There’s also the need to continue to develop the business community and provide jobs for all those folks that are headed our way,” Nash said at a MARTA event earlier this year. “So, I call it the next big decision for Gwinnett County. The time for making this decision is here."
Early voting on the issue started in late February and some 30,000 ballots were cast during that time.