Mt. Juliet city commissioners voted this week to pay $30,000 to the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) if the RTA will improve the Music City Star light rail station.
Mt. Juliet and the RTA have been feuding over finances for the Nashville area’s only light rail line. The problems come as Davidson County debates implementing a large-scale mass transit plan.
The Music City Star offers service between downtown Nashville and Lebanon and has stops in Lebanon, Mt. Juliet, Martha, Hermitage, Donelson and Riverfront Station.
NewsChannel 5 Nashville reports:
The RTA said Mt. Juliet has not paid its $30,000 annual operations payment for the last four years. Mt. Juliet city leaders said they stopped making payments when the RTA wasn’t willing to make improvements to the station. City leaders maintained the $30,000 is an optional fee and not required by law. The city has maintained its roughly $2,500 yearly dues without any problem.
City leaders said they felt the $30,000 was better spent on improvement projects within the city.
Because it wasn’t getting the money it said it needed from Mt. Juliet, the RTA had been discussing reducing rail service, implementing parking fees and ticket surcharges, or discontinuing service to Mt. Juliet. Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to make its $30,000 payment and expects the RTA to increase parking spots and bike racks for riders. Commissioner Brian Abston voted no. The Lebanon Democrat reports:
“I respect the fact that [Mayor Ed Hagerty] is on that board and needs to do this,” said Abston. “I’m not going to vote for it. I’m not going to support it. I wish the train could do what it was originally supposed to do and take a lot of people off the road. I don’t see it ever doing that.”
Hagerty offered his insight into why he felt the contribution was a good idea for both the city and the Music City Star.
“Nashville is putting out a $5.2 billion mass transit program. It’s going to the referendum in May,” said Hagerty. “If we can be a part of the solution in any way, even with this contribution to RTA, I think it’s worth taking that step and doing so. I’m supporting this. The effort for mass transit in Middle Tennessee is a good one.”
Monday’s decision will be up for a second vote Dec. 11.
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry is promoting a $5.2 billion mass transit proposal that includes creating a light rail network. In addition to adding lines, the plans calls for spending $30 million on the Music City Star, which would be used to expand service and add four refurbished coach cars. Barry wants to put a referendum on the ballot in May to raise taxes to fund the mass transit project.
Critics of Barry’s plan say light rail systems are costly and outdated and that recent trends nationally show declining ridership. Barry also wants to improve and expand bus service and build an underground tunnel downtown.