Gwinnett Voters Appear to Favor Rail Expansion Into County

A new poll commissioned by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce shows 63% of likely Gwinnett voters support an extension of MARTA into their County. The poll, conducted in March for the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, also shows that 33% of likely voters are dissatisfied with the county’s current transit options. The poll results show an increase by ten points over a straw poll conducted during the 2008 primary elections, where MARTA expansion was favored by 53% of voters.

Support for MARTA expansion into Gwinnett was strongest among those aged 18-54, although all age groups favored the idea. In addition, a majority of those polled would support a one percent sales tax, which would be a requirement to join the MARTA system.

According to Gwinnett Chamber President and CEO Dan Kaufman, the results of the survey will be used to start a discussion on transportation options and economic development. Kaufman was quoted in a press release as saying,

The issue of transportation has been a major topic of study and consideration throughout the region and the state this year. Our goal was to take a snapshot of the view of the Gwinnett community on a specific issue related to the overall topic of transportation. The results will be imbedded as part of future community-wide discussions on a comprehensive approach to economic development and the transportation system we will need to support it.

Conventional wisdom has held that while Gwinnett residents might favor some form of rail transit, there was opposition to joining the MARTA system. That may still be the case, with only 50% of likely voters having a favorable opinion of the transit agency.

The possibility of bringing transit to Gwinnett has been explored in depth by two of the county’s Community Improvement Districts. The Gwinnett Village CID, which includes much of the southern portion of the county along Jimmy Carter Boulevard, and the Gwinnett Place CID, which includes the Pleasant Hill Road area near the mall, commissioned a study in 2008 to determine the feasibility of light rail running from the Doraville MARTA station along the I-85 corridor to Sugarloaf Parkway.

Gwinnett Village CID Executive Director Chuck Warbington is encouraged by the poll results.

Planning to be a community of tomorrow means we can no longer look at vehicular transport as the only viable transportation solution for suburban counties. As a community, it is important that we have an open and honest conversation on how we will attract 21st century jobs with a transportation network that was primarily planned and built in the 20th century. Based on the results of this poll, the community is ready for that discussion.


  1. jpm says:

    So how would the poll look if the respondents would have chosen financing a privately funded vs a govt. funded rail tie-in into the county? Sort of like Burlington Northern vs. Amtrack in miniature.

    Oh, in re-reading the article I realized it was the Chamber paying for the poll so there was no thought except government debt and MARTA maintenance mis-management to solve a real problem.

    • Charlie says:

      I’d suggest you take a long look at MARTA GM Keith Parker’s track record before continuing the meme of MARTA mis-management.

      Show me a privately funded profitable passenger rail line in this country and then we’ll talk about that as an alternative to a proposal for one that will receive government funding.

      • To JPM: Interestingly enough, Hong Kong’s MTR is wildly profitable, but the way they structured it when they set it up is essentially as a REIT – it owns/develops many of the buildings above its stations and uses the profits from them to help pay for expansion and operation.

        It’s not hard to imagine a world where MARTA owned the Financial Center building above Buckhead, Lenox Mall, a 40 story skyscraper (instead of the Arts Center), ditto instead of Federal Reserve at Midtown, the Bank of America building at North Avenue, a commercial skyscraper at Civic Center and the State of Georgia Building (2 Peachtree) above Five Points. I think the funding picture would be a little different if this was the case.

        I think it would be helpful for opponents of MARTA to think of it this way. Instead we let the private sector (for the most part) run and operate commercial properties and we tax them and us to pay for the system. Probably better in the long run than running MARTA as a REIT on tracks.

        I believe counties like Cobb and Gwinnett are looking at their future, looking at the increasing cost of living/working close to the city and finding it hard to see a future without supporting things like MARTA. I’ve also long argued that T-SPLOST opponents who thought MARTA was the reason it went down were dead wrong, and this poll just reconfirms this. If/when Cobb, Gwinnett, North Fulton expansion happens, the only thing MARTA needs to figure out is how to run virtual express trains without a dedicated 3rd track during rush hour. I think you can probably do it by just holding a local train at a station while the express passes. If you could park your car at North Springs and be at Lindbergh in 10 minutes, Five Points in 20 and Airport in 30, that would really be something.

  2. jpm says:

    I did look at MARTA’s parked ~ 500 buses during T-SPLOST discussion that MARTA wanted T-SPLOST funds for to pay for parts and labor to get the buses functional. There are other failings available that can be found in MARTA’s reports. Not everything is bright and shiny when it comes to O&M. You can do your own research and find the issues they have with funding O&M and the backlog due to lack of funding.

    Turn your question around and you show me any profitable passenger line in the WORLD that is government run. The answer is there is no light rail system in any workers paradise or the home of the free that is profitable enough to not require government funding. I watched the Amtrack train scoot by yesterday on its way to New Orleans and could count 2 people in 5 passenger cars, two berth cars and 2 baggage cars. 2 people – that is federal, but what the article talks about is a Chamber of Commerce paying for a poll that shows people want government subsidized light rail into their county.

    I will accept that all of us include discussions of the whole picture including O&M when we talk solutions vs. just the bright and shiny promise of something new. Your info about ~ 66% of the new gas tax going to existing O&M was a great start to open the public’s eyes and I commend you for that; but by the same token no article is complete without discussion of the full cost impact of a new rail line including how we pay for maintaining the capital cost investment.

    • Charlie says:

      Keith Parker started with MARTA on December 10th, 2012. When was that TSPLOST vote again?

      I will now turn the question back around on you. Roads aren’t profitable, and neither are trains. So what’s up with the red herring?

      You’re hung up on Chamber funding for a poll? So what?

      The poll won’t approve MARTA. Voters will have to. But to pretend that attitudes aren’t changing toward transit, especially in Gwinnett and even in Cobb, is unrealistic regardless of who polls it.

      • jpm says:

        Red herring? Re-read your last response. My answer to your first response was that I did look at MARTA’s maintenance issues due to lack of funding BEFORE I made my first observation. My statement was based on published MARTA and ARC documents defining the MARTA maintenance problems. The issue has been an on-going problem for years; I don’t understand your interjection of a name and date to an ongoing problem as if the name and date is some magic bullet that makes the problem go away, the issue remains MARTA’s funding problem for O&M. Funding and budgeting to fix what is broken is the problem that requires solution.

        Yes – I am always questioning of politicians and organizations that commission polls. One of my communication course in college taught me to question the source of funding of polls as well as how a question is posed and the demographics of the respondents. Hence, my hang up on the source of funding of this poll.

        I am clear voters will decide. They decided in Gwinnett’s region the question of T-SPLOST and I expect the expansion discussions, and the amount of mis-information from both sides to be as robust as those discussions were. I also expect if rejected by the voters again, the problem of traffic congestion does not go away. I have no clue where your winger came from regarding attitudes regarding transportation polls came from – since you interject changing attitudes I acknowledge the public is “evolving” on the issue and do not disagree. Perhaps education is changing public perception.

        I do NOT reject solutions to traffic congestion. I am against tax dollars being influenced and used by politicians seeking power vs. solving traffic congestion whenever we talk solutions. I am also for educating the voter before the vote on the full cost including O&M that the voter may be buying into with their vote. I believe you and all the readers share the need for voters to be informed. My view based on talking with a lot of people is that voters are uneducated about the cost of O&M or how government funds O&M. That is why I commended you [per haps that was a red herring] for discussing in an earlier posting about the per centage of the gas tax needed for O&M. Perhaps another red herring; but I stand by my statement commending you on bringing the cost forward to educate the public.

    • Jon Richards says:

      With respect to your MARTA issues: As I mentioned in the post, there has been some concern in the past over whether MARTA was the right agency to operate a region-wide transit system. Legislative study committees concerning transit governance and visits to other large metros to see how they handle regional transit have been a part of that.

      MARTA in the past has had some operational and leadership issues and a sense of entitlement that were cause for concern. In addition, a lack of support for any type of transit in the past painted MARTA as the bad guy. But as Charlie points out, Keith Parker has made great strides in turning MARTA around by losing the attitude of “The state owes us money because we’re the only large-scale transit system without state funding” to one of “how can we improve MARTA so we get more riders and gain the trust of those in the region.” That has made a big difference, especially to those both under the Gold Dome, and city/county leaders in the region.

      With respect to your comments about transit being profitable, if that’s the expectation, then you will never be happy. And your point about paying for ongoing O&M is very valid. I’ll remind you that just this month, the legislature approved a $900 million annual tax increase to pay for O&M on the roads and bridges “we’ve already paid for.”

      • jpm says:

        Jon we are not that far apart. Mr. Parker may be making strides, but what comes after Mr.Parker as we are talking about a transit system that goes way out beyond our life spans? Will MARTA return to it’s past sins? I’m not ready to embrace MARTA as the solution after decades of failures. MARTA may be the best solution – another solution may be out there including a private corporation that manages the system. We should not take a private solution off the table at this point.

        You are also correct that I will never be happy about tax payers in Climax, or Santa Claus, or Amity Georgia paying for politicians influencing how transportation dollars are spent so that a politician can keep or gain power. I look to our past and our present to make that statement – in present tense I only have to look at the published documents of Atlanta to base my views upon. I will be the biggest cheerleader in the parade if I believe the taxation goes to the problems of transportation.

        I have been beyond the point of ‘we already paid for O&M’ and the mis-directed funds going to other things politicians used for their power, and eagerly look to how we actually spend the new gas tax money. Will we fix our roads and bridges or continue to mis-direct the money? My hope is we will fix what is broken before we expand and incur more O&M.

        I’m looking for solutions to real transportation problems just like you are – hence my continued questioning of you and Charlie. If we can’t talk about this then we will condemn ourselves to continue the cycle of taxation and not fixing the problems. We must make the decision makers accountable to focus the tax dollars on fixing O&M, and reducing congestion. Any other solution will be vigorously opposed by the voters just as it was in most of the regions when we voted on T-SPLOST.

        • Jon Richards says:

          Fair enough.

          It looks like you aren’t ready to fully trust the system to work properly, perhaps based on some of the issues that have occurred in the past. At some level, that’s understandable.

          I think MARTA began to gain some respectability beginning with Beverly Scott, and certainly with Keith Parker, for reasons expressed above. While there’s no way to tell if that will continue in the future should he leave, I don’t think it would be fair to discount them completely because of what might happen.

          In the end, there is going to have to be some sort of government entity running the transit show in order to receive federal funding. Right now that is MARTA. Would it be possible to have an organization overseeing transit but using a private contractor to operate the system? Sure. That’s how GRTA and the current Gwinnett Transit are run now.

          And I’m not sure if you are aware, but the final Transportation Funding bill has provisions in it for auditing GADOT to ensure the money is spent where it’s supposed to be spent, which as you point out is on maintenance more than new construction.

  3. benevolus says:

    A devel­oped coun­try is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use pub­lic trans­port
    – para­phrased from Enrique Penalosa, for­mer Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia

    This is from India, but I thought it was an interesting view of urban transportation struggles. Their class system is much more obvious than ours, maybe making the discussion a little more open:

    • Jon Richards says:

      That discussion is one that is well-known among people in the transit field. It’s in the balance of trying to meet the needs of the ‘riders of necessity’ — those that may not have a car, or another method of getting around, so they will have to live near and ride transit — and ‘riders of choice’ — those who can drive a car or take transit if they wish and if it’s a convenient and pleasant option.

      Of course, it’s the riders of choice that continue to drive cars clogging up I-85 and other corridors that would contribute to less congestion should they decide to ride transit. But, that requires convenient and more comfortable facilities (think wifi on buses and trains, which MARTA is starting to implement), an expectation that trips will run on time and will take not too much longer than driving the car, and schedule frequency so that the prospective user won’t worry that he or she will be stranded at work with an urgent need to get back home mid-day when transit isn’t running.

      All of that costs more to provide, of course. What society must decide is whether the benefits of faster trip times due to fewer cars on the road, less pollution, and reduced road construction and maintenance costs are worth the extra investment in transit.

      • benevolus says:

        “a convenient and pleasant option.”
        I’ve thought that was an issue for MARTA for years. There are fairly sporty looking, relatively comfortable small buses running around many airports 24/7, but when MARTA buys small buses they go the industrial route. I mean, it looks like you are about to go out with Georgia Power on a power line service call or something. Who wants to ride those things? Only if you have to.

  4. gcp says:

    What does MARTA offer that Gwinnett Transit does not currently offer? Is the promise of an expensive rail line the main selling point? This discussion is much like talk of running MARTA to Cobb.

    • Jon Richards says:

      The short answer (because I have to get ready to head downtown for radio) as that a regional solution that allows a rider to get from Gwinnett to Cobb (or Douglas or wherever) is needed to provide an effective transit system. A light rail / BRT system serving only Gwinnett would not be very useful. Sen. Brandon Beach kind of proved the difficulty of trying to get from Cobb to Gwinnett using transit when he had to use three different systems and several modes to do it.

      Instead of thinking of MARTA, think of a transit system that could serve the entire region. That might be MARTA, or it could be GRTA, or it could be something different. Also, see my comments to jpm, above.

      • gcp says:

        Ok we been through this before but if transit from county to county on the northside (Gwinnett to Cobb for example) is the problem why not use current systems to run coordinating bus routes; for example Gwinnett Transit connects with MARTA (Fulton County) which then connects with Cobb Transit. In other words Gwinnet Transit on one side, MARTA in the middle and Cobb Transit on the other side.

        But of course the problem is not so much cross-county movement as it is moving people towards the city in the morning and away during the evening.

        • benevolus says:

          In any case it should be possible. I think Barcelona has something like 9 different companies operating different parts of their transport system. Some agency has to coordinate obviously.

        • Will Durant says:

          The morning/evening commute is covered as long as you are going downtown. The only times I’ve considered Gwinnett Transit has been to the airport but my flight times have never aligned with their limited am/pm schedules. I’ve just arranged my pickups and deliveries at MARTA’s Doraville station or if the trip is short enough and the commutes aren’t during rush hour I’ve just driven all the way to the Camp Creek park & rides.

        • Jon Richards says:

          Realistically, a rider of choice from Gwinnett isn’t going to want to switch buses three times to get to a destination in Cobb, even if there were a more direct route than what’s offered now.

          And that brings up a second issue: there is no way to attempt to guarantee a trip time, since there are no east – west HOT / HOV lanes that transit can use like it can in the north – south routes.

        • gt7348b says:

          gcp – you can currently transfer on these systems, GCT / MARTA at Doraville and MARTA / CCT at Arts Center. Across the top end you are dealing with where is their ridership for MARTA – they already provide service and it comes down to who pays for the operation of the service outside of the respecitve transit agency’s service area. If you are talking about a rail service – who owns the tracks and operates? You’d have to set up another agency (GRTA has shown no interest in operating) to own and operate the service from Gwinnett / Dunwoody /Cumberland. It is a problem that has been recognized for well over 10-years and is actually one of the reasons for the existence of the Regional Transit Committee at the Atlanta Regional Commission.

  5. Will Durant says:

    Is this poll just anecdotal? I can’t find anything but references to it on myajc, gwinnettdailypost, here, or even on the Chamber’s own site. Of course the Chamber is still trying to convince us that Coolray Field was a wonderful investment and I would bet they could produce a poll to back that as well.

    My favorite legitimately conducted poll result is still the one that stated 80% of Americans want mandatory labeling of all foods containing DNA.

    • gcp says:

      Per the Atlanta Business Chronicle the study was conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research which had sample size of 502 likely voters.

  6. Raleigh says:

    For public transportation to work it must be a regional system and MARTA is really the only system robust enough to make that a reality AND I think it can work with some changes. I have lived in Cherokee county for almost 60 years it’s been almost 40 years since I’ve worked in downtown Atlanta. From Cherokee I Travel east to Gwinnett and many travel west to Cobb. That said I use MARTA when I can, to the Airport or the Capital complex and the Arts Center. If you want to go from Cobb to Tech Park in Gwinnett you could get there but last time I looked the trip would take 4 hours one-way. From Cherokee it can’t be done. We have to do better, that’s why it needs a regional solution. If a vote were held for MARTA in Cherokee many might not vote for it but I would.

  7. Nefarious H. says:

    Fact: A lane of interstate can carry, at most, 1800 vehicles per hour. That is- in any lane, 1800 vehicles can pass through a given point on a lane of interstate.

    Fact: The average rush-hour vehicle has 1.1 people in it. Efforts to increase the average number of people per vehicle (via HOV lanes) have had limited success.

    Thus, a lane of traffic can carry about 2000 people per hour per direction. An interstate with 7 lanes in each direction (14 lanes total) carries 14000 people per hour per direction. Need more? You’ll have to add another lane. You’ll have to buy up expensive right-of-way, deal with angry neighbors, etc, all for a measly 2000 people per hour per direction.

    Fact: A heavy-rail system like MARTA’s can run 8-car trains, each car capable of holding 125 people comfortably. Thus, each train holds 1000 people. The practical limit for frequency is 30 trains per hour per direction (2 minute headways). Thus, a MARTA system running at full blast can push 30000 people per hour per direction. You would need a 30-lane expressway (15 lanes per direction) to have the same capacity as a heavy rail system.

    Heavy rail systems are expensive. That’s no secret. But imagine the cost of a 30-lane expressway, or even a 14-lane expressway, and the cost of expanding heavy rail doesn’t look so bad.

    • TheEiger says:

      “Thus, a MARTA system running at full blast can push 30000 people per hour per direction. You would need a 30-lane expressway (15 lanes per direction) to have the same capacity as a heavy rail system.”

      That may be true, but all that math is worthless unless you can get people to actually use MARTA. I think that is more of the issue. How do you get 30,000 people per hour on a train in Metro-Atlanta? I’m asking honestly because that has never been answered. I don’t trust the “if we build it they will come” mindset.

      I think that the first step is to first have cites outside of the perimeter to start allowing for high density population centers. Much like we currently have in the Perimeter area. Roswell and Alpharetta are slowly starting this process with some of their recent developments. I think before we spend money on expensive rail outside 285 we need to have the population density required to sport rail. Think DC, Baltimore area.

      So the first step needs to at the local level with zoning.

      • gt7348b says:

        Ok – no one uses MARTA? I’m so tired of this argument. The MARTA rail system significantly relieves the downtown connector, but because you don’t see it – people forget it is there.

        Also, isn’t the free market at work building the density around Perimeter 20 years after the actual Red Line opened to Dunwoody? These aren’t investments for us – they are investments for our children and the long-term health of our area. We would never have had MARTA if thinking like “we are not dense enough now” had prevailed as MARTA was first conceived in the early 1960’s before the metro Area even had a population greater than 1 million

      • Nefarious H. says:

        The 30000 people per hour per direction number is a demonstration of the capacity of MARTA, not an accurate estimate of how many people would use it right away.

        Here’s an analogy.

        Let’s say you have a big pile of baseballs and two large buckets- one labeled “Travel to Atlanta by I-85” and another labeled “Travel to Atlanta by alternate roads”. Every day, you have to sort the baseballs into buckets. You fill the I-85 bucket with baseballs until it is full, and then you fill the alternate roads bucket. The remaining baseballs don’t get to go to Atlanta. And every day, more and more baseballs are appearing in your pile, and you can’t fit them all into your two buckets.

        And one day a big bucket labeled “Travel to Atlanta by MARTA” appears. This bucket is twice is large as the I-85 bucket. You favor the I-85 bucket though, so you fill the I-85 bucket first, and then the alternate roads bucket. You drop the remaining baseballs into the MARTA bucket.

        But remember, your baseball pile is growing, and the I-85 bucket and the alternate roads bucket aren’t growing, so every day, more and more baseballs go into the MARTA bucket because there’s no room in the other buckets. Eventually, there are as many baseballs in the MARTA bucket as in the I-85 bucket, and the MARTA bucket has room for more still.

        • TheEiger says:

          Good analogy and I get it. I really do. But you have to look at this from the funding end as well. We have a very small bucket of money and an even smaller bucket of money for transportation. You have to convince a bunch of politicians to take from other programs or raise taxes to pay for heavy rail. If money was no option I would support rail everywhere all over the state, but that just isn’t the reality we live in. I think there are other options that are potentially more realistic. The bus rapid transit lines that run on a dedicated lane that tie into MARTA is a great option. I’m not talking about Gwinnett transit buses and CCT. It needs to be a bus only lane that runs line a train. You could probably run a bus line up 75, 400 and 85 for the cost of MARTA up just 85. I’m not against public transportation. I just know the challenges that we face with funding. It took years and was like pulling teeth to get the legislature to pass a bill that basically allows us to start maintaining what we already have. Some people have the mindset that costs doesn’t matter. Cost is probably the only thing that matters.

          • Nefarious H. says:

            I like BRT as well. I personally like BRT as sort of a companion to MARTA, with dedicated bus lanes running in the middle of interstates, not just feeding into MARTA’s heavy rail, but also extending into Atlanta themselves. MARTA’s Civic Center station lends itself well to serving as a BRT station since it goes across the interstate.

            I admit bias to heavy rail, but interstate BRT would be a great way to get rapid transit to a lot of places.

  8. jpm says:

    Nefarious – per haps you do have the solution. I can not argue your math – except with your calculation for 14 lane totals @ 1.1 people for every truck, bus, car, van, motorcycle, etc. is off by 10%. Perhaps you rounded down to better illustrate your point. I am from the generation of civil engineering students that use to stand by the interstate & Spring street counting heads to figure how many vehicles and folks were moving on I-75. But of course back then I-75 stopped near the Marietta 120 loop, and I-20 stopped near Villa Rica. Back in the 50’s and 60’s when the system was designed I-75’s, I-85’s, I-20’s and I-285’s were designed to handle the traffic 80% of the time. The design limits were that for 20% of the time the traffic would move at < 45 mph and not the full 60 mph speed limit that was the design standard at that time. In a 24 hour day the existing system pretty much functions as designed 50 years ago. Back in the 70's me and my clip board figured more than 1.1 people in each vehicle…so times have changed. Part of what has changed is that due to rail costs and other financial considerations, heavy trucking has been added to the road system reducing the number of people per vehicle. Trucks add to all the things we want to reduce.

    There are some logistics in your statements that are not clear to me that are classical transportation questions that always have to be answered; What is the practical time limit of loading 1,000 people in the rail cars, and unloading the 1000 people from the cars upon arrival in the two minute headway you allocate? What is average speed to travel the undefined distance in your example including the loading and unloading of the 8 cars during the two minute headway statement? Based on logic – your 30,000 people per hour does not make sense due to the loading and unloading, acceleration and deceleration and a host of other minor logistical reasons. There are a lot of other logistical questions but I'll settle for understanding how we can physically accomplish what you state as fact to get to your 14,000 vs 30,000 people per hour. Then we can discuss getting those 1000 people out of the parking lots onto the same roads system with the 14,000 people once we use a rail system to move folks to those parking lots. If we could intice people to return to the 2 people per vehicle we could darn close approximate your 30,000 number without the cost of rail.

    Would we not have the same issue purchasing land for rail lines, stations, and parking that you rightly point out in your 3rd paragraph for more road lanes? Would we be able to build elevated rail tracks over the federal interstate system? We know tunneling is by far the most expensive and dangerous solution so we either parallel the existing road system or we go above the existing system – unless we want to be the next Boston "Big Dig".

    What is the capital and O&M comparison over say a 20 year period [both take extraordinary amounts of time to construct within a sprawl] for the expressway vs. rail? So we need to take a long view to understand capital and O&M cost to figure the best solution.

    You may have this 100% correct that heavy rail system is the best answer. There are solutions to traffic – we just may not politically or financially like the answers. At this point it is fair for all ideas to be floated and thought through.

    • Nefarious H. says:

      I stand by my math. (1800 veh /(hour * lane)) * 1.1 people/veh = 1980 people/(hour*lane). I actually rounded UP to 2000 to make math easier.

      (2000 people/(hour*lane) ) * 7 lanes/direction = 14000 people per hour per direction.

      Getting right of way for heavy rail would indeed be expensive like adding lanes to an interstate. However, once it’s in place, the payoff is enormous capacity. Once in place, it would never have to expand width-wise, barring enormous, enormous demand.

      As for people getting in and out of trains- that’s why I indicated headways of at least two minutes so that there’s enough time for riders to exit and enter. It should be noted that some heavy rail systems have headways even SHORTER than two minutes. London’s Victoria line, for instance, runs 33 trains per hour (109-second headways).

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