Nashville voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a plan to pay for a $5.4 billion mass transit system that called for a new light rail system, expanded bus routes and the building of a downtown underground tunnel.
Unofficial vote totals show the measure being defeated by nearly 30 percentage points.
The plan was killed by a mix of liberals and conservatives, combined with outside interests. Every African-American candidate running for mayor had come out against the proposal, and that may have swung considerable votes against transit. They had different reasons for their opposition, but much of it centered around whether it was the right plan, whether it was fair to everyone in the community and whether the money would be better spent on other things.
Voters were being asked to increase taxes to pay for a 26 mile (42-kilometer) new light rail system on five major corridors, upgrades to the city bus system and the tunnel downtown. An increase in sales tax, along with a hike in hotel, business and rental car taxes would have paid for the system. And while the capital costs of the project was $5.4 billion, the total cost was about $9 billion with added debt and maintenance costs.
Conservatives against the measure said it was too costly and would not alleviate traffic congestion in Music City. Many opponents found the light rail component outdated and expensive. And some of those against the plan didn’t like the idea of Nashville eventually having the highest sales tax in the nation to pay for it.
Some, like Jack Allyn, didn’t think there would be enough transit riders to justify the expense.
“I don’t know if people are going to give up their cars,” said Allyn, a 25-year-old bartender who voted against the transit plan hours before it was defeated.
A number of liberals feared the plan would increase development and gentrification in a rapidly growing city that is already pricing people out because of the rising cost of housing. Some advocates for affordable housing came out against the measure.
One of the biggest proponents of the plan was former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, who was a popular figure in Music City. But she was brought down by scandal over an affair with her head of security and her guilty plea involving $11,000 of taxpayer money used for travel with him. Vice Mayor David Briley was sworn in as mayor when Barry resigned in March. He has also been a strong backer for transit, arguing that Nashville needs a better transportation system to accommodate all the growth that is expected.
Backers of the plan had hoped that more people would be willing to vote for the plan because of the city’s daily traffic snarls. Nashville was recently named the 27th most congested city in America by transportation analytics firm INRIX.
Some newcomers to Nashville who have lived in big cities had hoped Nashville would adopt the plan, for the convenience and ease of congestion.
“I grew up in New York City, so I’m quite used to transit systems and know how effective they can be, and we’ve seen first-hand the traffic here in Nashville and the growth of Nashville, and so it seems reasonable that we make an investment for a better transit system,” said David Golann, after voting for the plan. The 35-year-old, who has lived in Nashville for two years, said he found the traffic congestion in Music City “quite bad, especially for people who live far away from the center.”