RTA Approves $6B regional transit plan

Nashville Business Journal

Meg Garner

Middle Tennessee is one step closer to getting mass transit.

Members of the Regional Transportation Authority unanimously approved the projected 25-year plan at their meeting Wednesday. The plan will next go up for a vote at Thursday’s Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority meeting.

These two votes are the plan’s final hurdles before officials begin the daunting hunt for funding the $6 billion plan, which would expand the area’s transit system to include better services, such as light rail.

In a presentation to the board, MTA CEO Steve Bland said the plan is not expected to roll out to all areas at the same rate; instead, it will focus on areas with high needs first. He added there are simple solutions that will greatly improve the quality of the area’s transportation system that can be rolled out in the next one to three years.

These options include simpler ways to pay for fares and extended operating hours.

The plan — if fully funded and built over the next two dozen years — would extend transit service within a half-mile of 1.55 million jobs in Middle Tennessee, which is more than triple the reach of the region’s existing system.

While transit officials anticipate that federal funding will fuel a large part of the work, Metro inevitably will need to set aside funds — likely from new or higher taxes — devoted solely to funding mass transit (and it remains to be seen whether the state will help). The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is prepared to campaign for that, and has said it hopes the first major piece of expanded transit will be newly under construction in 2020.

The plan was widely praised by board members Wednesday for its efforts to engage the public. According to the presentation, the plan has received more than 19,500 community engagements (defined as any sort of public comment the plan received, including via social media, emails, etc.) since its inception in April 2015. The plan received just under 1,000 engagements in the past 30 days alone.