Voters reject funding proposal for ambitious Nashville transit plan

Gridlock in downtown Nashville. (© Tennessean)

After a referendum on a package of tax increases that would fund substantial improvements to Nashville’s transportation infrastructure failed, supporters are regrouping on the path forward.

Our transportation problems are not going away,” said Nashville Mayor David Briley after the vote. “In fact, we know they’re only going to get more challenging as we continue to grow. I’ll get back to work tomorrow on finding a solution for Nashville that we call can agree on.”

The funding proposal voters considered would implement a comprehensive transit plan developed through a years-long process that included extensive public input and deliberation. nMotion, the regional transportation plan for Nashville and the Middle Tennessee area, is a system-wide improvement plan designed in response to Nashville’s rejection three years ago of the Amp—a 7-mile bus rapid transit line—for being too narrow a project to solve a regional problem. nMotion remains as the guiding document for the region’s transportation future, although it now lacks an adequate funding mechanism.

Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation requiring county-by-county voting and funding for transit projects, thereby limiting regional efforts. The General Assembly also narrowly defined the funding mechanisms for transit referenda, largely requiring transit to be funded by sales taxes—which is a hard sell in a state that has no income tax but already has relatively high sales taxes. Anti-tax interests subsequently threw money in opposition to Nashville’s proposal, in some cases spreading misinformation that was later retracted.

In the years since many of these same interests opposed the Amp, Nashville residents asked for housing built next to transit and jobs, more walkable communities, and expanded transit as the city went through the NashvilleNext process to develop a long term vision for how and where the city will grow. Neighbors also started investing time in community-wide conversations to address the interconnected issues facing growing cities, such as traffic congestion, affordable housing, and access to jobs.

Nashville is continuing to grow rapidly, and more of the same traffic, pollution, and sprawl won’t do,” said SELC attorney and native Nashvillian Anne Passino. “We’ll continue to work with our partners to support real solutions that can provide a safer, healthier, and more equitable transportation system befitting Nashville’s world-class reputation as a welcoming town with the honesty to name our problems and the creativity to solve them.”

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