In Nashville Mayor’s Plan, Trains the Ticket Out of Transit Trap

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry unveiled plans for a $5.2 billion public transit plan that, if passed, will completely revolutionize travel in the metro area and, once its 15-year construction completes, will include 26-miles of light-railways, totally redesigned bus transit in both service and quality, and a massive rail-and-bus tunnel with underground stations that bypasses the busiest part of the city.

The billion-dollar plan has two equally important parts, though only one deals with transportation. The other part is that Mayor Barry is asking her constituents to vote for a sales tax increase that will increase the price of almost everything they buy in a Davidson County store by 1 percent. The plan proposes a 1 percent sales tax increase, stepped up in half-percent increments in July 2018 then 2023. Along with a variety of lesser taxes and fees slightly increased, the sales tax increase by state law must be put to a public vote. So the success or failure of an urban transit system in Nashville in the foreseeable future will be decided on May 18.

The Plan

The plan’s three main pieces are a recreated bus system, a totally new high-capacity, high-speed light-rail and roughly five-block tunnel that will allow rail and bus to totally bypass the busiest and most trafficked part of downtown.

Bus Plan

The bus system’s overhaul includes switching to electric buses and adding additional loops, with pick-ups every 15 minutes. Routes will run daily from 5:15 a.m. to 1:15 a.m., essentially 20 hours daily, whereas currently service varies roughly operating between 10 to 16 hours per day.

The expanded service and new buses will cost $807 million. If the plan gets funded, the new bus system would be in operation by 2019

Rapid Bus Service is on top of the general bus overhaul; it will run routes on Nashville’s four busiest corridors: Dickerson Road, Hillsboro Road, West End Avenue and The Bordeaux Route.

While these buses will not run on bus-only lanes such as in some mass metro transit bus designs, but they will have priority at traffic signals, queue priority and will have infrastructure improvements along these routes made to increase the buses mobility.

The rapid bus service will cost $223 million. It’s slated to be operational by 2023.

Light Rail Plan

The first light rail (LRT) lines will start construction in 2022, begin operating in 2026 and continue phasing into use until the build out completes in 2032.

The 26-miles of track will create five lines:

  • Gallatin Road: from downtown to Briley Parkway
  • Murfreesboro Road: from downton to the airport
  • Nolensville Road: from downtown to Harding Road
  • Charlotte Avenue: from downtown to I-440.
  • Northwest Corridor: from downtown along Charlotte Ave; and along 21st Avenue to Buchanan Street. This line will be made in part from extant track.

The total price tag of the light rail, makes up nearly 60 percent of the entire plan’s cost, at $3 billion— about $11.5 million per mile of new track.

The Tunnel Plan

The tunnel, for both bus and locomotive, will extend roughly six blocks from Music City Central Transit Center north of Broadway and extend south to the SOBRO Transit Center, essentially bypassing downtown and the attendant traffic and delays that come with the territory near Broadway. In addition to two state-of-the-art hub stations at either end of the tunnel, a third station at the route’s midway point of 5th and Broadway will provide access to Broadway. The tunnel is slated for a 2027 completion.

Without counting rail as a single project, the tunnel is the most expensive item in the overall transit plant, with a cost of $936 million.

The Price

The current sales tax rate people pay in Metro Nashville is 9.25 percent— the state’s standard 7 percent and 2.25 percent added by the city government. The proposed purchase of the transit system will raise it to 9.75 percent this July and then to 10.25 percent total by 2023.

In the first year of collecting the half-percent increase, the city figures to collect in 2019 $90 million from the sales tax increase, the large majority of the $110 million total for transit it projects it will collect in 2019.

The sales tax could affect Williamson County residents, and overall about half of the sales tax revenue Nashville collects come from non-residents, according to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Hotel tax is another way out-of-towners may end up footing some of the bill. The current 6 percent tax on hotel rooms will increase to 6.25 percent in 2018 and then to 6.375 percent in 2023.

The average hotel room in Nashville costs $261 per night, and with a 6 percent tax of $15.66 cost $276.66. After next July, that same room would charge $16.31 in taxes with the new 6.25 percent rate and cost $277.31. After 2023, when the rate tops out at 6.375 percent, you’d then pay $16.64 in taxes on a $261 room for a total paid of $277.64.

The Rental Car Tax in the city is proposed to go from 1 percent to 1.2 percent, in 2018, another tax increase unlikely to affect Nashville residents.

In the only proposed tax bump not tied directly to people’s spending, the current city Business and Excise Tax of 1 percent will increase to 1.2 percent.

Additionally, the city will issue $2.5 billion in bonds, to spend in the short term while through the bond gets paid off in the longterm by the above taxes on residents– and a significant number of non-residents.


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