In memoriam: Nashville’s mass transit plan

By Hermes


With the May 1 municipal elections, the city of Nashville faced a crossroads, both literally and figuratively.

On one side, a plan to raise the city’s sales tax by 0.5 percent for the short-term future in order to fund mass transit upgrades, which would include a light rail system, frequent bus routes and, potentially, a new subway system. It was not pennies on the dollar by any stretch, but an estimated $9 billion expenditure. The plan had been in the works for years.

On the other side, continuing on with no plan, thereby ensuring the further deterioration of an already aging public infrastructure.

Voters overwhelmingly chose the latter path — a terrible mistake that won’t be easily reversed.

Just as in the 2016 presidential election, misinformation negatively impacted the election. Pro-transit and anti-tax groups swapped heated television ads. That’s not to say pro-transit was a victim of an entirely unsubstantiated smear campaign — former Mayor Megan Barry, a supporter of transit upgrades, had just resigned in shame after stealing $11,000 of taxpayer money to fund getaways for her extramarital affair. It’s no doubt this lit a fire under Nashville’s conservative voters, who were mostly against tax-funded transit upgrades, to come out to the polls.

A conservative faction emboldened by the referendum soon expanded to other political issues. Dr. Carol Swain, a popular conservative political analyst, has now thrown her name into the mayoral race to be decided later this month, as have many more conservative candidates than usual.

Even liberal city council members, such as Erica Gilmore, surprisingly spoke out against the plan, calling it “unworkable.”

It’s pretty clear the people on the outskirts of Nashville, within Davidson County, voted on what was best for them rather than what would have been best for the city as a whole. These citizens voted out of anger; they cut off their nose to spite their face.

Here’s a map from CBS affiliate WTVF, updated as of 11:30 p.m. on the night of the election:

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The trend is clear. Those outside the city center didn’t want to pay for transit upgrades to a system they might not regularly use, even if the plan would have been best for the city, overall.

Now, it’ll be another six to eight years before a new plan is proposed. The effects could outlast the administration of Mayor David Briley, even if he finishes the remainder of former Mayor Barry’s term and serves two full terms of his own.

It’s the cherry on top of a terrible political year, one which featured a mayoral scandal, a court ruling triggering an early election and as many as five separate elections to be held in a single year. And now, this.

With hundreds of people moving to Nashville every day, the transit crisis will only worsen, yet a majority of the city’s voters have chosen to ignore it.

Right now, the future is unceratin. What we do know, however, is that Nashville chose the more expensive of two less-than-ideal positions. The city could have been a Seattle or a Portland, but it chose to be an Atlanta, instead.

Personally, if I’m stuck picking between a rock and a hard place, I’ll pick the rock every time. That way, I’ll at least know what I’m going to get. ■


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