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What is the process for the transit referendum?

The process for carrying out a transit referendum is outlined in the IMPROVE Act passed by the state legislature in 2017.  This plan’s release is the first step. Then, Metro Council will decide whether to put the plan to a vote on May 1, 2018. Davidson County voters will have the opportunity to make their voice heard to Council and then at the ballot box in May.

If Metro’s Transportation Solution is approved by voters, when will projects be completed?

Metro’s Transportation Solution would begin creating a multi-modal transportation network for the county in 2019 with major improvements to existing bus service, and will end around 2032 after a series of gradual project phase-ins.

Specifically, anticipated construction and completion of major facets of the project are:

  • Four Rapid Bus corridors scheduled to open in 2023
  • Five Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines – the first scheduled to open in 2027, the last in 2032.
  • The downtown underground tunnel scheduled to open in 2027.
  • The entire system – including Neighborhood Transit Centers, bike lanes, sidewalks and park-and-rides – scheduled for completion by 2032.

To learn about specific project scheduling and view the complete, proposed timeline.

What does the plan do for me immediately?

Metro recognizes that travelers in our region face increasing travel time challenges right now. Metro’s Transportation Solution includes an “Early Deliverables Program” that establishes relief in key corridors while longer-term projects are planned, designed, and constructed. This includes establishing:

  • a Frequent Transit Network of buses to traverse 11 of our highest ridership thoroughfares
    • Service at 15-minute intervals during peak commute times on 11 of the busiest routes
    • longer hours of service – from 5:15 am to 1:15 am on weekdays – as well as extended weekend service hours
  • a network of nearly two dozen Neighborhood Transit Centers
  • four new crosstown routes along Trinity Lane, Edgehill Avenue, Bell Road, and Airport-Opry Mills
  • enhanced AccessRide program, MTA’s program to serve riders with disabilities, to ensure eligible riders can get to and from transit stops. All they have to do is download an app to request a ride.
  • On-demand technology that provides innovative “first-mile/last-mile” integrated connections. “First-mile/last-mile” refers to the legs of your journey to get from home to a transit stop, and to get from a transit stop to your final destination.
  • an extensive upgrade of our bus fleet to reduce pollution and improve speed, access, efficiency and comfort for all riders, including fully electric buses and more crosstown routes between neighborhoods
Why do light rail projects take so long to build?

Major infrastructure projects require significant time to plan, design, and build due to lengthy environmental review and coordination with local communities, among other factors. The Nashville region’s high level of existing development and its challenging geology further add to our project’s complexity and timelines.

Planning and building major light rail projects typically takes 10-12 years – longer for projects that are particularly complex due to design, construction, and permitting challenges, such as extensive underground construction through downtown.

How much capacity does light rail offer, and how does that compare to other transportation investments?

Transit is a primary tool used by regions around the world to add transportation capacity, particularly when there’s little room to expand roads. While a freeway lane moves as few as 700 cars per hour and up to 2,000 cars per hour under ideal conditions, a four-car light rail vehicle can move up to 16,000 people per hour in each direction regardless of traffic or weather conditions. That’s an increase in capacity of over 8 times compared to a freeway lane.

One four-car train carries the same number of passengers as about 10 buses. Moving the same number of people on buses would require 200 drivers and 200 buses competing for space on roadways that are experiencing greater congestion each year.

Will Metro’s Transportation Solution reduce congestion in Nashville?

Light rail lines and rapid bus corridors will drastically increase the people-moving capacity of our transportation system. Each rider is not contributing to rising congestion, which helps to ease the movement of drivers and freight on our roads.

That said, traffic is likely to continue to be a problem for our area because of our inevitable rising population; however, without high-capacity transit, congestion and gridlock will get much worse. And they’re bad enough already:

Nashville’s drivers currently spend about 33 hours per year stuck in traffic costing drivers $1,308 per person and the city as a whole $517 million per year in lost productivity. From 2010-2015, we added 111,405 additional commuters to our roads. With 80 new people moving to our region every day, the more people have options to ride the bus or light rail, bike, and walk the better off our roads will be.

Light rail offers an alternative to driving that also helps promote economically vibrant urban development in which people rely less on cars, benefitting all travelers as well as our environment.

How were projects selected to be in Metro’s Transportation Solution?

The projects selected in the Metro’s Transportation Solution were identified during the nMotion planning process, the Metro Transit Authority’s (MTA’s) long-range strategic plan developed with the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) representing our surrounding counties.

The nMotion transit plan, adopted by the MTA and RTA boards in September 2016, is the result of more than two years of public engagement and technical analysis, and has been designed to create a transportation system that keeps pace with our growth while retaining the characteristics that make Music City special. It also reflects regional planning efforts and desires expressed through the extensive civic engagement process for NashvilleNext, Davidson County’s General Plan.

The high capacity corridors, both light rail lines and rapid bus, were identified during the nMotion process because they experience the highest bus ridership and because of their population, employment, and redevelopment potential. The Gallatin Pike corridor ranked “Best” on current bus ridership, population density, and opportunities for residential and commercial development. Consequently, it will be the first light rail line developed, with construction scheduled to begin in 2022.

How is Metro’s Transportation Solution different from nMotion?

nMotion was a regional plan – a coordinated planning process involving both MTA and RTA. Metro’s Transportation Solution is specific to Davidson County. It does not include any projects outside of the county, and does not fund any projects outside the county – even though it lays the groundwork for our surrounding counties to eventually connect to our transit network.

There are also two major projects included in Metro’s Transportation Solution that were not included in nMotion: the Downtown Underground and the Northwest Corridor.

The nMotion plan did not account for a strategy that would ensure high capacity corridors would be able to travel easily into and through downtown. And Metro realized no comprehensive transit plan could be successful without a way to seamlessly connect the system through downtown.

Metro has been working with a team of engineers and planners who determined that the most effective and efficient way to move through downtown, given our current narrow streets, is to build an underground tunnel.

The Northwest Corridor is so named because it’s the only light rail line that doesn’t run along a street. Recognizing the need for more transit north of downtown, Metro considered creating a commuter rail line between Nashville and Clarksville on an existing, but infrequently used, freight rail line. But this line would not have connected to the rest of the city’s light rail lines, which wasn’t in keeping with Metro’s commitment to create an interconnected network.

So, Metro’s engineers developed a way to use an existing freight rail line to connect with the Charlotte light rail line into downtown, making a critical connection to North Nashville and the following higher education institutions: Tennessee State and Fisk universities and Meharry Medical College.

The Northwest Corridor will function as a light rail line, as well as a line for freight traffic at night; the opportunity also exists to extend it into a commuter rail line in the future.

Light rail is really expensive. Why haven’t we considered cheaper options first like improving the bus system or encouraging people to commute during off-peak times?

There is no single solution to our transportation challenges. We must, and we are, pursuing a range of options and improvements that take into account our unique opportunities and challenges. Some of these are relatively inexpensive. Others will require significant resources. All are critical to creating a transportation network that includes multi-modal options for everyone.

Metro’s Transportation Solution depends heavily upon a range of bus AND light rail options integrated together to enhance existing service and provide new, better service.

A bus system that is frequent, safe, reliable and comfortable is the backbone of any successful transit system – and it’s certainly the backbone of this one. Our solution starts as early as 2019 with an Early Deliverable Program, in which Nashville’s bus system receives numerous cost-effective enhancements to significantly improve service.

In addition to improving our existing transportation options, we can also better manage the demand for traveling on congested roads at peak times. In Winter 2017, Nashville will launch its Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program called Nashville Complete Trips. Nashville received a grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to develop the program.

Nashville Complete Trips will be a comprehensive resource for commuters in Middle Tennessee to connect with each other, employers, and others to explore travel options that shift residents away from relying on single-occupant car trips for work and services. In addition to promoting transit, biking, and walking, the program also will encourage employers to allow more tele-commuting and flexible work schedules.

How is transit expected to work with future innovations in transportation, such as self-driving cars?

Self-driving cars, otherwise known as “autonomous vehicles,” will definitely be one part of our mobility future. But high-capacity transit will still be critical to moving large numbers of people over long distances, particularly during peak hours. There will always be constraints on how many cars, self-driving or standard, can fit into the region’s most congested areas. It all boils down to space, which dense and growing cities like ours inherently lack.

That’s why high-capacity transit like light rail and Rapid Bus can be highly complementary with fleets of self-driving cars as these become feasible.  They can provide improvements to last-mile connections between transit centers and local destinations. These new technologies also will allow us to expand our service territory/coverage area and reach more areas with on-demand service more cost-effectively.

Metro Nashville is also developing a self-driving/autonomous vehicle demonstration, which will focus on using self-driving vehicles for “first-mile/last-mile” connections to transit, specifically targeted at improving transportation options available for low-income college students. “First-mile/last-mile” refers to the legs of your journey to get from home to a transit stop and to get from a transit stop to your final destination.

How is Metro’s Transportation Solution different from the AMP?

The AMP project consisted of one 7-mile bus rapid transit (BRT) line connecting East and West Nashville. This line was not part of a larger system, but was self-contained.

The plan’s high capacity corridors differ from The AMP in several important ways:

  • They are part of a comprehensive system that will serve and enhance some of our busiest thoroughfares and connect people all across and throughout the city.
  • The projects are based off the nMotion plan, a two-year process that involved extensive planning, engineering, and over 20,000 responses from residents about where they wanted to see transit.
  • It will promote maximum speed, safety and efficiency by giving transit vehicles priority on major thoroughfares in and out of downtown.
What about connecting with other counties?

The overall plan envisions a regional connection from the Davidson County corridors into surrounding counties. This includes Gallatin Pike into Sumner County, Nolensville Pike into Williamson County, Murfreesboro Road into Rutherford County, the Northwest Corridor in Cheatham and Montgomery counties, and the Music City Star into Wilson County). We look forward to working with our surrounding counties to ultimately take Davidson County transit lines beyond the county line; however Metro’s Transportation Solution does not provide specific planning or funding for high-capacity transit into other counties. Any future expansion will require the participation and planning of our surrounding county governments.

What are Rapid Bus corridors?

Rapid Bus corridors are different from the enhanced existing bus service that will make up the Frequent Transit Network. That’s because Rapid Bus corridors include capital improvements that ensure improved travel times and increased reliability by giving priority on busy thoroughfares to high-capacity buses. Rapid Bus service is the same as the Frequent Transit Network in that buses will be available at least every 15 min during peak travel times and will run for longer hours.

Nashville’s Rapid Bus corridors will have:

  • Real-time passenger information to inform passengers when buses will arrive or depart from stations
  • Intelligent transportation system technologies, such as automatic bus locators
  • Premium stations that offer off-board fare collection and level-platform boarding, meaning you don’t have to walk up steps to board
  • Frequent service (at least every 15 minutes) and service from early morning to late at night
  • Limited stops to reduce stop time and improve travel time.
  • Transit priority, such as signal priority and queue jump lanes to speed buses through intersections. The buses will also have dedicated travel lanes where feasible.

These features work together to make service fast and reliable and to improve service convenience and comfort.

How precise are the locations of the routes and stations shown in Metro’s Transportation Solution plan?

While the passage of Metro’s Transportation Solution would commit Metro to serve the areas shown on the map, the precise locations of stations and alignments will be determined through additional design and engineering, as well as extensive public involvement once the plan is approved.

The lines on the map reflect the factors that were used to develop ridership estimates and costs.

Why aren’t we looking at an elevated or underground rail solution?

Primarily for cost reasons, most emphasis has focused on developing surface options.

Although elevated rail solutions do not interfere with surface traffic as much as solutions on the ground, they are more costly to build, operate and maintain. Therefore, extensive elevated and underground options are not practical given the more cost-effective options available at street level.

However, Metro’s Transportation Solution does incorporate limited elevated and underground projects where it makes sense and is the best option for ensuring speed, safety, and reliability. For example:

  • The system will incorporate an underground corridor running North-South beneath 5th Avenue – from Charlotte on the north end to SoBro on the south – that will provide fast and reliable travel in and out of our busy and dense downtown even during high-travel periods.
  • The system incorporates several bridges within the corridors to support better, safer traffic flow.
How will Metro’s Transportation Solution benefit people who do not ride it?

It’s an investment in the entire city of Nashville. Even if you don’t use it, you will benefit from it:

  • A comprehensive transit network can reduce the rate of increase in traffic congestion overall. Light rail lines and Rapid Bus corridors will drastically increase the people-moving capacity of our transportation system. Each transit rider is not contributing to rising congestion, which helps to ease the movement of drivers and freight on our roads.
  • Even if you don’t plan on using transit to commute to work every day, you still might want to use it for special events, particularly downtown. We saw firsthand earlier this year when the Predators were in the Stanley Cup Finals that our downtown street grid has a hard time handling thousands of event fans coming into and leaving the core at one time. Metro’s Transportation Solution will make it easy to enter and exit downtown smoothly, even when we have a Predators playoff game and CMA Fest happening on the same day, and even once we have 1 million more people living in our region
  • People will have other transit options on those occasion when their cars are in the shop or during bad weather when they’d rather rely on a more fail-safe method like Rapid Bus or light rail to get around.
  • Transit, particularly rail transit, will also increase the property values for properties adjacent to transit lines. However, the plan will incorporate incentives for creating more workforce and affordable housing
  • Even if you don’t plan to ride transit, other members of your family might. Perhaps your spouse will want to access light rail, or your teenage child will be able to get to school or events downtown on transit. If one member of your family rides transit, your whole family will save thousands of dollars a year in monthly car payments, insurance, and gas.
What will happen to those people who can’t afford to live in near high-capacity corridors once property values go up?

Mayor David Briley is committed to funding, building, preserving, and maintaining Nashville’s supply of affordable and workforce housing so that working families can afford to live, work, and play in Nashville.

Affordability in Nashville is about more than just housing prices – it’s about the entire cost burden on families. Metro’s Transportation Solution will incorporate Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), which allows for both housing and transportation costs to go down. High capacity corridors, both Rapid Bus and Light Rail, also improve the connection between affordable housing and high-paying jobs - residents can access more affordable housing at the end of the transit lines, but still be able to access high-paying jobs at the city center without having transportation costs and commute times increase.

Metro has developed an initial plan to ensure that housing affordability along the corridors is preserved and more housing units are built. It’s also essential that we protect and enhance small businesses along transit corridors, and that’s included in the plan.

Metro’s Transportation Solution expands housing affordability by:

  • Reducing cost burdens for existing low to moderate-income individuals and families by providing transportation options.
  • Offering free or reduced fares for Nashvillians who are experiencing poverty, living with a disability, senior citizens, and those under the age of 18.
  • Expanding housing affordability along corridors and near employment centers to allow for greater opportunities to live near the places where they learn, work, and play.
  • Creating mixed-income communities that improve health, support better education outcomes, and promote upward mobility.
  • Prioritizing strategies in areas along transit corridors to prevent displacement of low to moderate income residents

Metro will convene a taskforce to develop a comprehensive plan to preserve and build more affordable housing and protect small businesses.

Why will light rail work in Nashville? How can Nashville Metro justify the cost of this program when there has not been a demand for more buses?

Due to our region’s recent and projected population growth, there is immediate and long term demand for increased capacity of our transportation network. Light rail is the most cost-effective way to do this and is an investment that will continue to provide capacity for up to 100 years. Light rail is also a mode that attracts new transit riders, effectively taking people out of their cars.

Light rail will improve the transportation system by providing Nashville with more travel choices and faster travel times between residential areas, major destinations, and employment centers. As more cities have invested in and built light rail systems, projections for ridership and construction costs have gotten much better. Most of the recent systems have actually seen ridership far beyond the projections and have been completed on-time and on-budget. Salt Lake City, Portland, St. Louis and Dallas are prime examples.

Ridership experiences for initial LRT lines in other cities are:

  • Salt Lake City – projected opening day ridership was 14,000 per day; after first 4 months daily, ridership was 19,000
  • Dallas – projected opening day ridership was 15,000 per day; actual opening day ridership was 18,000
  • Denver – projected ridership was 22,000 per day; actual daily ridership is 28,472 per day
  • St. Louis – projected opening day ridership was 13,000 per day; actual ridership after 1 year of service was 44,400 per day
  • Houston – projected 2020 daily ridership was 15,900; actual daily ridership in 2010 was 40,000 per day, meaning ridership more than doubled projections 10 years ahead of schedule
How are we planning on financing this plan?

Metro’s Transportation Solution constitutes a $5.2 billion infrastructure investment that will connect and serve every community in Davidson County. Scheduled to be completed in phases by 2032, it will be funded by a range of surcharges that include sales, hotel/motel, motor vehicle, and businesses taxes. These will be distributed among residents, businesses and visitors alike. Specific surcharges are:

  • ½ percent sales tax surcharge beginning in July of 2018, and graduating to one percent in 2023
    • A recent study released by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce shows that nearly half (47%) of sales tax collections in Davidson County are generated by out-of-county residents.
  • ¼ percent surcharge on the hotel/motel tax, graduating to three-eighths of a percent in 2023
    • The Convention Center Authority, which is funded in part by local hotel taxes and fees, is anticipated to help pay for the transit system by constructing a SoBro station for light rail and rapid bus service. Additionally, the Metro Nashville Airport Authority has agreed in principle to fund a light rail spur from Murfreesboro Road to the Airport with terminal access.
  • 20% surcharge on the rental car tax
    • Metro currently charges a one percent tax on the gross proceeds derived from the lease or rental of any passenger motor vehicle, truck or trailer for a period of five days or less. This 20% surcharge would result in a total of 1.2% surcharge on rental cars.
  • 20% surcharge on the business and excise tax
    • Businesses in Davidson County are assessed a business and excise tax based on a variety of classifications established under TCA 67-4-708. If a business currently pays $1,000 in such a tax, this surcharge would result in an additional $200 annually.

Infrastructure investments are always critical decisions cities must make and often require large investments. In the 1960s, our country knew that we needed to invest in the interstate highway system to continue to support our nation’s economic growth. Today, cities across the country are investing in transit systems for the same reason: they know it is critical for the future of their city.

Over the last 20 years, dozens of cities have approved referendums for dedicated funding sources for transportation. We are one of the only cities of our size that doesn’t have a dedicated funding source for transit. As a result, transit infrastructure investments must compete each year with other general fund requests, such as schools and public safety.

Each year, MTA requests incremental budget increases to maintain our current transit system, but in order to create a more effective and efficient system, we must have a dedicated funding source generated by surcharges evenly distributed among us all.

How can taxpayers be confident that projects will be delivered on schedule and budget?

Rigorous independent oversight along with demanding internal cost and project controls help ensure that Metro spends taxpayer dollars wisely. One of the requirements of the state’s recently-passed IMPROVE Act is that an independent CPA firm reviews Metro’s financial model for Metro’s Transportation Solution and that the firm’s independent audit is reviewed and approved by the State Comptroller.

Metro Public Works and Nashville MTA will also undergo regular audits during the lifetime of the project.

Where will current traffic go when you’re doing work on the roads? Do you have alternative routes planned for commuters during construction? Or will the whole city be torn up at once?

Construction will occur in phases to limit disruptions as much as possible.