Nashville Mayor Reveals Bold, Multibillion Dollar Transit Plan

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Earlier this week, roughly one year before her city hosts the 2018 American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Expo, Mayor Megan Barry of Nashville, Tennessee announced a sweeping, $5.2 billion public transportation plan to address the metro area’s longstanding issues of congestion and mobility. The ambitious and expensive proposal includes comprehensive improvements to the city’s existing transit systems and new offerings, including light rail, to expand access and connectivity.

Dubbed “Let’s Move Nashville: Metro’s Transportation Solution,” the mayor’s plan would be largely financed by certain local tax surcharges, namely a sales tax hike and increased hotel, rental car, and business taxes. However, in order for the proposal to proceed successfully, it, along with its financing plan, must be approved by referendum. Mayor Barry hopes to present the proposal for voter approval in countywide elections scheduled for May 2018.

The bulk of the plan calls for mass transit lines—mainly rapid bus and light rail service—to run down the middle of Nashville’s primary and busiest corridors, connecting in an underground tunnel beneath the city’s narrow and congested downtown streets.

In addition to upgrades to Nashville’s existing bus system—new electric buses, more cross-town routes, and expanded hours of operation—the mayor’s plan calls for a new 25-mile rapid bus service across the area. Not to be confused with bus rapid transit (BRT), which requires entirely dedicated bus lanes, Mayor Barry’s proposed offering would include certain features to boost efficiency and shorten travel time: signal prioritization, separate lanes during peak hours, and level-platform boarding, for example.

Perhaps the loftiest portion of the proposal, however, is a 26-mile, $3 billion light rail system along five major transit corridors. Mayor Barry hopes the light rail network, which would include a route to Nashville International Airport, will commence operations in 2026 and be completed by 2032.

In an effort to improve access and boost transit connectivity, the mayor’s plan also calls for the construction of nearly 24 “neighborhood transit centers,” multi-modal transfer points which would include bike-share programs, car-share parking, and more traditional park-and-ride service. These centers, the cost of which remains unclear, would be strategically located along the city’s new bus and light rail lines.

The proposal also calls for expanding the operating hours of the Music City Star, an existing rail service that runs between Nashville and Lebanon, upgrading sidewalks, improving traffic signalization, and redesigning dangerous intersections. Furthermore, in an effort to boost access, the mayor hopes to eliminate transit fares for residents at or below the federal poverty line.

While ambitious, the plan is in its nascent stages. It will have to surpass several obstacles, including the possible May 2018 referendum, in order to come to fruition, and many details, including design-related issues, remain unclear. Nevertheless, Mayor Barry is committed to her likely legacy-defining proposal, affirming that “this comprehensive transportation solution will connect more neighborhoods with each other and open the door even wider to the city’s job, education and entertainment centers.”