Nashville's $5.2 billion transit plan unveiled this week does little to connect neighboring counties and stays well within the city limits. But officials hope that it might inspire surrounding communities.
There's been some debate about how to launch a truly regional transit system, and this week's announcement effectively makes that decision — start with Davidson County. Mayor Megan Barry says she believes the city will become an example.
"Once this construction gets underway and residents in our neighboring counties see the success of this great system and the benefit of using public transit over sitting in traffic, those voters will join Nashvillians in helping to build and fund a regional system," she said Tuesday.
In Nashville's case, the plan requires a mix of new taxes, including a hike in the city's local sales tax. And that will take approval from Davidson County voters, so the money will be spent locally. However, Barry points out that residents who drive in each day will ultimately help pay. Nearly half of the city's sales tax revenue comes from people who live outside the county.
Davidson County could decide as soon as May 1 whether to establish the taxes that will fund decades of construction, including light rail, dedicated bus lanes and even a tunnel under downtown. It will still take years of laying the groundwork.
"While they're doing that, another county could very easily be moving forward with a referendum," says Jo Ann Graves, the former mayor of Gallatin who now leads the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee.
She hopes a domino effect begins well before the first light rail could goes into service in 2026.
"I don't think you'll see some of the other counties that far behind," she says. "As long as the time sequencing isn't too far apart from one another, it still becomes a regional system."
Rutherford County is the most in need of an option aside from the interstate. Graves points out that on a good day, it can take an hour and fifteen minutes to drive in from Murfreesboro.
"I think the entire region knows we've got to do something sooner rather than later," she says. "Certainly, they are all watching."