Nashville Chooses Ambitious Transit Plan — At Hefty Price | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville Chooses Ambitious Transit Plan — At Hefty Price

Aug 17, 2016

Nashville unveils an ambitious plan for mass transit improvements today, with officials saying the “bold, long-term investment” follows the overwhelming demand of the public.

In development for more than a year, the nMotion plan combines a range of strategies to fight traffic gridlock and fundamentally change how Middle Tennessee travels:

  • buses that run much longer hours;
  • extension of the Music City Star rail line to daily service, including weekends;
  • an overhaul to how buses move downtown, plus construction of a second transit station;
  • significantly faster service to Nashville International Airport;
  • light rail service, eventually, along four corridors.

To carry out this “comprehensive regional system” would require significant spending: Nearly $6 billion in capital costs over 25 years, along with a 300 percent increase in annual operating costs, from the current $83.2 million to $338.4 million if fully realized.

On a per capita level, that would be an increase from $67 to $244 — although officials say a huge share would come from non-local sources, to the point of actually reducing Metro’s per capita spending. (Read more about the costs and potential federal funding here.)

“The overwhelming response was that Nashville and the Middle Tennessee region should pursue a bold, long-term investment in mass transit,” the report reads.

(View the plan here.)

In presenting the ideas to the oversight boards of the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Regional Transit Authority, transportation leaders have chosen the most ambitious of three options that first debuted in January.

At the time, MTA CEO Steve Bland said “it’s time to bite the bullet and … make some investments in our infrastructure, so that we can continue to support growth.”

The public has 30 days to comment before the RTA and MTA vote on adoption of the nMotion strategy.

“People need a much easier way to get around,” Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said Wednesday morning.

She called transit an issue of equity, quality of life, economic development and environmental protection. And while praising the 18 months of effort that went into the planning, she said she's ready for action.

“At some point you have to stop studying things and actually put a shovel in the ground,” Barry said.

Transit officials project a 429 percent increase in ridership over 25 years, if the full plan is carried out.
Credit nMotion

While much of the proposal spans over 25 years, initial projects include several that residents have been requesting, like more frequent bus service and increased Music City Star service to the east of the city, including farther into Lebanon.

Middle Tennessee could also see the first attempt at running buses in a dedicated interstate lane — or along a modified highway shoulder — within two years.

And because high-capacity transit, like light rail, often requires 10 years of work, the study calls for that process to begin soon. As it stands, light rail is proposed for Gallatin Pike, Nolensville Pike, Charlotte Avenue and Murfreesboro Pike to the airport.

The 36-page plan groups projects into eight categories. Among other specifics would be projects to:

  • Give transit riders more real-time updates online, in apps and at stations and stops
  • Create more “one-seat” bus routes to cross the city without transfers
  • Provide far more frequent service to the Opryland and Opry Mills area
  • Dedicate lanes to buses on Dickerson Pike as the city’s first true bus rapid transit.

The regional elements of the plan point to several surrounding areas as best prepared for increased service: Springfield; Goodlettsville, Hendersonville, and Gallatin; Lebanon; Smyrna and La Vergne; Spring Hill; and Dickson.

An enhanced transit system could have service within a half-mile of twice as many jobs as it currently does.
Credit nMotion

If there’s a part of the plan that’s unenthusiastic, it’s for the idea of new commuter rail. The MTA all but rules out the possibility in  all but the “Northwest Corridor” that connects Nashville and Clarksville. But even that idea, which has pockets of strong support, is described mostly in terms of serious “hurdles” to completion.