Nashville Mayor Megan Barry defended her controversial mass transit plan Monday at a Rotary Club meeting, reports the Nashville Business Journal.
And on Wednesday she raised the cost – from $5.2 billion to $5.4 billion.
Barry’s plan has faced a growing chorus of critics who have questioned its costs and practicality. But in her speech to the Rotary Club’s Nashville chapter, Barry tried to dispel three myths she said critics have created about her proposal, which involves building a light rail network, improving and expanding bus service, and building an underground tunnel downtown. She wants Davidson County voters in May to approve four tax increases, including a sales tax hike, to help fund the project.
The project’s price increase is the result of new plans to extend the Charlotte Avenue light rail corridor. Resources have already been found to cover the expense and the proposed tax increases won’t change, Barry said in a press release.
Barry said Monday the three false ideas promoted by critics are that transit ridership is falling, Nashville doesn’t have the density to support light rail, and self-driving cars will eliminate the need for mass transit.
Saying that it’s “disingenuous to dance on transit’s grave,” Barry pointed to other cities that have been “doubling down” on mass transit and getting results. A light rail line in Charlotte, North Carolina, has led to $1.8 billion in development in five years, she said.
Barry said Nashville will have the needed density for her mass transit plan by tailoring development to mass-transit corridors instead of pushing more development into suburban areas. As for self-driving cars, Barry said they are still cars and will take up road space. She echoed this point Tuesday in a Facebook post. She wrote:
A frequent transit myth is that once autonomous vehicles hit the road, all our traffic problems will be solved. The truth is, driverless cars are still cars, still expensive and still impacted by weather and what other cars do on the roads. Taxis and driving services have been around as long as cars have, and they haven’t kept us free of gridlock because they can’t move as many people at once as a bus or train. As self-driving vehicles become more feasible, they will complement our system by helping to provide first and last mile connections to transit. Autonomous cars are part of our future, and part of our Let’s Move Nashville proposal, but they aren’t a singular solution to this growing problem.
Last month, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute wrote that Barry’s plan “makes no sense.”
“Nashville is a very sprawling city with highly dispersed origins and destinations of traffic,” wrote Aaron Renn. “It lacks the gigantic downtown employment centers of New York or Chicago that are well-suited to transit.”
A senior fellow with the Cato Institute wrote that light rail is “a bad investment,” and locally, an economics professor at Vanderbilt University has questioned the usefulness of mass transit for the Nashville area. The Nashville Tea Party has criticized the plan and the People’s Alliance for Transit, Housing and Employment (PATHE), a Nashville group representing the working class, while not as strongly opposed to mass transit, has also raised concerns.
Opponents say Metro Nashville should focus more on improving bus service than relying on light rail and should consider innovations such as express toll lanes that use a digital system with dynamic pricing adjusted for current traffic conditions.
Critics say Barry’s mass transit plan is outdated in an age in which people have started to become used to customized door-to-door transportation through services like Uber and Lyft. They also say fewer people will be working in downtown areas and business centers in the future as technology allows even more people the flexibility to work from home or other locations.