New Mayor: What's Next For Nashville Transit Plan

New Mayor: What's Next For Nashville Transit Plan
Posted at 11:13 AM, Mar 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-07 13:24:38-05

One of the biggest questions residents are asking in lieu of the transition of power is how the change could affect the transit referendum, slated for May 1.

Early voting begins weeks earlier, on April 11. The $5.4 billion transit overhaul is the boldest and most expensive plan the city has faced, with a mixture of four tax increases planned in order to pay for the projects involved:

  • 1 percent sales tax increase by 2023
  • 20 percent increase on the business and excise tax
  • 20 percent increase on the rental car tax
  • 3/8 percent hotel tax increase by 2023

The increases would sunset in 2068. 

The plan includes five light rail lines, a downtown underground light rail tunnel, major upgrades and an expansion to the city's bus system, neighborhood transit centers, and more bike paths and crosswalks across Nashville. After 15 years-worth of day-to-day operating costs, long-term costs reach almost $9 billion. 

People on both sides of this issue are now looking to Mayor Briley to see what he will do next.

Briley has been a huge transit supporter throughout the entire process, alongside former Mayor Barry. His politics are progressive, said NewsChannel 5 Political Analyst Pat Nolan. 

"I know Mayor Briley is as big a supporter of the transit plan as the (former) Mayor was, so I don’t think there will be any problem in leadership or at least support at the top," Nolan said Tuesday when word came down about Barry's resignation.

Reporters got a small taste of what Briley is planning when he spoke with them after his swearing in ceremony Tuesday night. He said he's planning a series of town hall meetings across the city to cover the issues that matter to residents.

"My administration will fight for transit solutions, neighborhoods, crime prevention, our schools, public health and to bring jobs and investment to all of our communities," he said.

Briley said passing the city's transit plan is his first priority. 

"It's the most important thing that is confronting our city right now and I'm committed to working hard on that every day between now and May 1."

In fact, it was the issue the new mayor spent the most time discussing.

"This is what this moment is all about. Is Nashville going to invest in itself? Do you want to live in a city that is prosperous in 20, 50, 100 years? You have to make this investment if you want that," he said.

Last week, Vanderbilt released scientific poll results that give a snapshot of what residents are thinking about transit and a multitude of other local issues.

According to the poll - which was conducted with the participation of 800 residents - 39 percent of people support the city's transit plan, which gave the pro-transit camp a 12-point lead over the 27 percent of people who oppose it. That was before the recent transition of power.

A third of respondents polled said they did not know enough about the plan to have a position. That leaves the field wide open based on which side gains momentum, and translates it to actual turnout, heading toward the May 1 election.

It is unclear whether Mayor Barry's departure will impact the results.

"Let's be clear. The transit referendum is not about one person," Mayor Briley said Tuesday, "it is about 20,000 people coming together and defining a future for this city."

Groups mobilizing against the city's transit plan weighed in Tuesday.

"I think ultimately at this point, they should go back to the drawing board to see what we can do that’s kind of efficient, cost effective, and will help to solve some of the traffic problems instead of this multi-billion dollar plan which will do nothing to solve the traffic problems," said Mark Cunningham with the Beacon Center.