Transit for Gwinnett

The Vision


The following should all be read with a rather large grain of salt, as any final plan may very well look quite different. The aspects of the vision are more there to show what is possible, and what Gwinnett could have, instead of saying what it will have.

Gwinnett county is a large and diverse place, requiring a wide range of solutions to its problems. More so now than ever, a full suite of transportation technologies are available to us here in the metro, ranging from Commuter Rail and Express Buses to Community Circulators and Streetcars, which can be implemented as needed for a comprehensive approach to transit. The vision for Gwinnett is not only that of increasing mobility within the county itself, but also increasing mobility to some of the region's largest employment centers by taking full advantage of these technologies.

This vision would offer a backbone of Heavy Rail Transit and branches of Commuter Rail Transit from the core of Atlanta, over which a web of Bus Rapid Transit, Arterial Rapid Transit, Frequent Buses, Local Buses, Circulators, and Express Buses would be laid, to fill in service gaps as well as reach employment centers not well accessible by rail.


Rail Service - Heavy Rail Transit (HRT)

Heavy Rail Transit, from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, through Downtown and Midtown Atlanta, and running deep into Gwinnett County, would act as the county's high-capacity backbone. It would serve locals' as well as commuters' needs along the congested I-85 corridor.

MARTA has studied what heavy rail into Gwinnett would look like in the recent past. In 2007, a discussion paper was published by MARTA, at the request of Gwinnett Place and Gwinnett Village Community Improvement Districts, examining what potential high-capacity transit lines would look like extending from Doraville Station, to I-85, and then up to Gwinnett Place. The paper concluded that

"an extension of the northeast rail line into Gwinnett County can be the centerpiece of a new multimodal transportation system. This new transit line can promote significant new transit ridership as well as opportunities for land use and transit-oriented development strategies. Ultimately, by balancing land use and transportation concerns with transit, the growth pressures, traffic congestion, and air quality concerns of Gwinnett County residents can be addressed."

Unfortunately, the line was never built, though further studies into potential high-capacity transit routes have been conducted by the Community Improvement Districts. The vision presented here for Gwinnett calls for the Northeast extension of the Gold Line to be built almost exactly as originally designed, with updates to adjust for modern terrain and construction, as well as an extension to the I-85 / 316 split, terminating at Sugarloaf Mills

Not shown on the map are potential future extensions of either the Green and Blue Lines into the county as well.


Rail Service - Commuter Rail Transit (CRT)

Commuter Rail Transit, from Downtown Atlanta and through to the northeastern boarders of the county, would provide lower service than Heavy Rail, but still serve both locals' and commuters' needs in historic railroad towns that are somewhat separated from the main density corridor as spokes from the central city.

In 2006, GDOT was ready to begin construction of the first leg of what was to be a metro-wide commuter rail network, and eventually a state-wide intercity rail network. Unfortunately, state politics kept the initial line, and by extension the rest of the system, from ever being built.

In 2014, Clayton County joined MARTA, with the promise of some kind of high-capacity transit service. Though MARTA is studying multiple technologies, it is most likely that the eventual plan will be to build the region's first commuter rail line from East Point MARTA station to Lovejoy. This line will establish the precedence for future commuter rail lines in the region.

The vision for Gwinnett calls for two routes, following original GDOT planned lines, to be built, with stops in historic railroad towns and at regionally significant locations. Though commuter rail tends to be more rush-hour oriented, it is possible that commuter rail could be designed as a higher frequency service similar to heavy rail, providing bi-directional trains for people to move between each town all day.

Additionally, MARTA commuter rail lines would be open to other passenger services, such as Amtrak or other regional trains. This would allow for passenger trains to use tracks completely separate from the freight rail network, where such separate track is built.


Bus Service - Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

Bus Rapid Transit layered on top of the Heavy Rail backbone, and the Commuter Rail branches, would then fill in the rapid transit gaps. Primarily running along arterial roads, buses in dedicated lanes would take up frequent, high-capacity service where rail would be both too expensive, and unnecessary to meet the county's needs outside of the county's highest density corridor.

These routes would not only connect economic nodes within the county to one another, but also provide high-capacity transit to other economic nodes in North Fulton and DeKalb.

Additional bus services like Arterial Rapid Transit, Frequent Service, Local Bus Service, Express Service, and Community Circulators would be further layered atop the BRT network. All together, Gwinnet would have an incredible network of services meeting a vast majority of its needs to handle its current population and future growth.


Additional Route Options

Of course, the vision presented above is just one set of options. Other plans have been assembled by others, illustrating similarly ambitious, though slightly different potential transit services in the metro, let alone Gwinnett County.

It is important to remember that none of the proposals made here are final, and that Gwinnett will have ample opportunity to negotiate with MARTA as to the specifics of its service.

Before joining in 2014, MARTA completed an operations feasibility review for Clayton County, outlining likely bus routes, as well as the potential for high-capacity transit to be funded. Should Gwinnett choose to join an agency other than GCT, such a review will need to be completed, either on the agency's own part, or at Gwinnett's request, to establish a basic plan. From there, specific routes and services can be added or removed based on the needs and funding available.

It is further important to remember that, though many routes and technologies may seem obvious choices, any agency that Gwinnett chooses to expand transit will undergo a review and study period for all services implemented, offering a chance for citizens to weigh in, as well as weighing benefits to costs for each option available.


Funding

It is a natural thought, having seen the maps above, to wonder what The vision will cost Gwinnett. The answer, to be quite frank, is a lot. That said, it should be understood that the cost is not so much that Gwinnett can not afford a significant amount of The vision, if not the entire thing.

The tables to the left show a potential scenario of what a 1% sales tax would bring in for the county. Please note how there are multiple options for reserving tax collected in the county for high-capacity transit. The scenario is set up to collect tax from 2020 until the MARTA tax comes up for renewal in 2057, but the same math could be performed for any appropriate period of collection. 

In 2014, Clayton joined MARTA. Initially they only wanted to join with a 0.5% sales tax, but accepted the full 1% sales tax under the condition that MARTA withhold half of the collected tax for building high-capacity transit. This withheld amount is what will fund the likely commuter rail line in Clayton. MARTA is obligated to deliver the service within a given timeline, or else return the money.

In the City of Atlanta, MARTA has been given an additional .5% to the baseline 1% sales tax. A significant portion of the money collected from the additional tax will be issued through bonds, the agency's primary way of financing projects. These bonds will be put up as backing to the federal government, with the intent that they will be matched, essentially doubling the amount of money available for high-capacity transit projects. This would basically be returning the citizens' own federal taxes to themselves in the form of infrastructure.

Gwinnett County could certainly negotiate a similar deal depending on how many projects they want to fund with whichever agency is chosen.


Edgewood / Candler Park Transit Oriented Development Picture Credit: MARTA

Edgewood / Candler Park Transit Oriented Development

Picture Credit: MARTA

King Memorial Transit Oriented Development Picture Credit: MARTA

King Memorial Transit Oriented Development

Picture Credit: MARTA

Transit Oriented Developments (TODs)

Starting with Lindbergh, but having really kicked off in the past few years, MARTA is augmenting its tax and ticket revenue by leasing the property it owns around stations to developers to build housing, businesses, and public spaces.

These developments bring a multitude of benefits, for both the agency and the surrounding areas:

  • The long-term leases provide a steady, stream of additional revenue for further funding agency projects and services.
  • The developments add both destinations for as well as sources of trips, adding to the overall system ridership.
  • The developments add to the tax base of the host city & county.
  • The developments add food, retail, and other options for local residents to use.
  • The developments add residencies with immediate access to high-capacity transit, and immediate access to any and all bus lines using that station, allowing people the chance to live car-free.

Such developments are not required, nor are they appropriate for every potential station, but TODs do add to agency's financial stability, and ability to fund additional projects. As such, they should be welcomed at as many station sites as possible, including those for commuter rail and bus rapid transit.