Metro Council’s main question for $6B transit plan: How will we pay for it?

Nashville Business Journal

Meg Garner

Six billion dollars. It goes without saying, but that is a lot of money. It is also the expected cost to implement the area’s nMotion plan.

Metro Transit Authority CEO Steve Bland addressed Metro Council members’ questions about the area’s regional transit plan at a special joint meeting of the council’s Traffic, Parking and Transportation Committee and the Planning, Zoning and Historical Committee Wednesday night.

Earlier in the day, Bland spoke on nMotion’s current standing to the Regional Transportation Authority, where the 25-year plan received unanimous approval. The MTA will vote to approve nMotion at its board meeting Thursday afternoon.

Throughout the night, Bland fielded a variety of questions, from how MTA plans to market its transit system to why existing train tracks used for commercial purposes cannot be used for commuters as well. But the one question that repeatedly came up was how MTA and the Regional Transportation Authority plan to fund the $6 billion plan.

Bland told council members funding such a large program will require tapping into several different pocketbooks, saying “you patch together what you can to keep the process going.”

He added plans of this magnitude usually have seven to eight different funding mechanisms.

Bland said the most successful transportation measures are typically those that look for regional funding, as opposed to state funds. He said ballot initiatives also go over better than just trying to push through a funding package.

In 2015, 34 transportation measures were put on ballots in 10 states. Of those, 23 received voter approval, giving them a 68 percent success rate, according to the Center for Traffic Excellence.

While the $6 billion nMotion price tag often raises the eyebrows of both government officials and the general public, Nashville’s plan is far from the most expensive out there.

Voters in Seattle, Wa., will vote on a $50 billion transportation plan this November, and residents in Phoenix approved a $30 billion plan in 2015.

Councilman Jason Potts, who chairs the transportation committee, asked Bland what steps need to be taken to put an nMotion funding initiative on a Nashville’s ballot. (Bland said he was unsure of the specific steps.)

“I think Nashville’s ready. I think we’re all ready,” Potts said.