Nashville Mayor Calls For Big Spending To Get Started On Light Rail, Forecasts 'Headaches' To Come

Apr 26, 2017

Nashville is ready to pursue light rail train service. That was the big reveal in the “State of Metro” speech by Mayor Megan Barry.

“I am very happy to announce that today the work begins to create light rail service on the Gallatin Pike corridor,” she said to applause near the end of her address outside Bridgestone Arena.

The project would stretch between downtown and Rivergate Mall. This route through East Nashville and Madison was chosen because it already carries the most bus riders. And the mayor says development patterns — and attitudes of residents there — are moving toward density that favors rail.

Here's an excerpt from the nMotion plan:

The 2011 Northeast Corridor Mobility Study, led by the Nashville Area MPO, identified light rail in a freeway alignment as the long-term locally preferred alternative for the 30-mile corridor between downtown Nashville and Gallatin. The intention was to initially implement BRT that could be subsequently upgraded to light rail. The inspiration for this vision was Denver RTD’s T-Rex line, which operates in a freeway alignment similar to the potential configuration in the Northeast Corridor.

More: Read the nMotion plan that lays out light rail as the best option for some corridors

There’s no set price tag yet, but a countywide funding referendum will go to voters next year for Metro's broad nMotion plan, including for light rail. Barry's plan hinged on this week's passage of Governor Bill Haslam's IMPROVE Act, which allows local governments to increase local gas taxes by referendum to pay for transit projects.

Barry says to expect arguments and a drawn-out process for what would be the biggest civic project in city history.

“And there are gonna be some headaches. And we’re gonna have to have some honest conversations," Barry said. "Some people aren’t going to like and be happy with every decision. But it is time to get moving.”

More: Nashville Chooses Ambitious Transit Plan With A Hefty Price

Before the city gets to a referendum, Barry wants the largest-ever funding increase for the Metro Transit Authority — $7 million. That means more spending on current bus service. She's also proposing $65 million for sidewalks and paving and $2 million for more bikeways.

An earlier version of this story misstated the funding increase for the MTA.