East Nashvillians Ponder Mass Transit

The future of transpo rtation in Music City goes before voters May 1, and for some residents and businesses in East Nashville, the notion of a state-of-the-art mass transit system connecting their community to downtown and points beyond is a dream years in the making.
      Mayor Megan Barry’s transit proposal calls for dozens of miles of light rail along the region’s busiest arteries, hundreds of miles of additional bus routes, and more than 10,000 feet of tunnels carved into the bedrock beneath downtown. All that development will take time — current plans call for a ten-year, multi-phased expansion beginning in 2019. Additionally, Barry’s administration estimates the massive expansion will cost some $9 billion. But that’s money well-spent to Leslie LaChance.
      LaChance and her husband live in Inglewood, and their house is near the end of a proposed light rail spur that will run along Gallatin Pike to downtown Nashville. Additional spurs will follow three other highly congested routes: Charlotte Pike, Nolensville Road, and Murfreesboro Road.
      “I’ve lived in cities where there was great mass transit, visited places with great transit,” LaChance says. “I really look forward to being able to walk the four blocks from my house, hop on a train, and head downtown to a concert.”
      Combined, these four light rail lines will converge in downtown Nashville at a central terminal, where riders can change trains, depart for business, commerce, and tourist areas, or hop on a connecting bus line. For people living in East Nashville, the proposed transit improvements could cut the commute into downtown from 20 or 30 minutes down to just 5 or ten, depending on the time of day and number of riders.
      Barry’s proposal to overhaul transit is not without its detractors, though, who contend the proposed $9 billion is far too little to complete her vision. That’s not to say opponents of the plan don’t see the need. In fact, several Metro Council members have vowed to present their own plans to redouble the city’s mass transit efforts.
      At least one councilmember has criticized the plan for not going far enough, noting that tens of thousands who work downtown actually live as far away as Gallatin or Murfreesboro — areas Barry’s proposed rail won’t reach. Without addressing transit needs in those communities, some think the plan may be too little, too late.
      Barry and her supporters aren’t backing off the plan, and come May, voters will be asked to consider a massive overhaul to the city’s tax structure to finance construction of the system. The proposal includes a one-cent sales tax increase, and additional increases to the city’s business and excise taxes, hotel and motel room taxes, and taxes paid by those who rent cars.
      Still, for residents of East Nashville, reducing traffic along Gallatin Pike is a worthwhile investment, one that LaChance believes can change people’s lives.
      “I’m excited about the possibilities, and that’s why I’ll be voting yes,” she says.