A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute conservative think tank has criticized Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s $5.2 billion mass transit proposal for Davidson County.
“Building a system like this makes no sense in a city like Nashville,” wrote Aaron Renn, who specializes in urban issues and economic development.
Barry’s plan calls for a light rail system along five corridors, an underground tunnel downtown and upgraded buses. The project would be funded with federal grants, bonds, fare revenues and tax surcharges. Barry is asking Metro Council to place a referendum on the ballot in May to raise taxes. A half percent sales tax surcharge would start in July 2018, increasing to 1 percent in 2023. There also would be surcharges on the hotel/motel tax, local rental car tax, and business and excise tax.
Renn says the “reasons are obvious” why the plan wouldn’t work.
“Nashville is a very sprawling city with highly dispersed origins and destinations of traffic,” he said. “It lacks the gigantic downtown employment centers of New York or Chicago that are well-suited to transit.”
Nashville is a city built around the car and is not among “a very limited quantity of districts designed in a transit oriented way,” Renn wrote, noting that “even huge and relatively dense Los Angeles has been unable to grow its transit ridership despite a massive investment in a vast rail network.”
Renn maintains that “transit and the auto are not good substitutes.”
“Rail transit works best with high density, pedestrian oriented streets, very limited parking, high cost of driving (tolls, parkings), and terrible traffic congestion,” he wrote. “So not only will transit not reduce traffic congestion, you almost need more of it to make transit work better. A city that tries to be halfway auto oriented/halfway transit oriented will work well for neither.”
Renn also noted that “this is by far the single most expensive capital project ever that I have been able to identify in Nashville” and would come with significant upkeep costs.
“This is a great example of interior cities being unable to transcend coastal definitions of what a ‘major league city’ should look like,” Renn wrote. “Nashville does need to reinvent its transport infrastructure for the modern area and to accommodate growth. It has the opportunity to do that in a way contextually appropriate to what it is…Nashville, by not turning its back on country music but embracing it, showed how it’s done from a brand perspective. They weren’t afraid to be different from the coasts in ways that might be perceived as déclassé. They should find it within themselves to channel that same spirit when it comes to transportation.”
As it was being developed, Barry’s plan faced similar criticisms from an economics professor at Vanderbilt University.