- On the eve of early voting and just three weeks before residents go to the polls, Nashville, TN Councilman Robert Swope, R, unveiled an alternative to the city’s $5.2 billion transportation plan, up for vote in a referendum on May 1.
- Called "Intelligent Transit for the It City Nashville," the plan suggests integrating personal transportation and mass transit by using interconnected autonomous vehicles (AVs) and double-decker highways on Interstates 64, 24 and 40, the Nashville Business Journal reports
- Swope said the plan — in conjunction with smart cities consultants The Digit Group — will cost $1.65 billion and it could be implemented in five years with commitment from the city’s transit authority and private partners.
In what is perhaps an indication of how high tensions are running on either side of this debate, Transit for Nashville spokeswoman Kelly Brockman described Swope’s alternative plan as a "sham" and a "self-contradictory proposal" in a statement to the Nashville Business Journal. She also criticized the timing of the proposal, coming as early voters prepared to cast ballots. "This is a last-gasp diversion and voters will see right through it," she said. The plan, like the "Let’s Move Nashville" plan being voted on, suggests building more transit centers, but designed to cater to AVs rather than light rail or bus rapid transit (BRT).
But opponents of the plan have come in for criticism in recent times, including for some apparent dirty tricks to try and rally support for their cause. The Tennessean revealed that Better Transit for Nashville, a grassroots group against the plan, submitted an opinion piece using a fake name and unauthorized photograph. After investigating, it turned out several group volunteers wrote the piece under a pen name and used a photograph of a local man not affiliated with the group.
Also throwing a wrench in proceedings is the ongoing political wrangling over who gets to succeed recently-resigned former Mayor Megan Barry and complete her term. With a special election set for late May, interim Mayor David Briley has remained a staunch supporter of the proposal. The Nashville Business Journal reported he and nine other elected officials signed a non-binding "Declaration of Transportation Independence," reaffirming the city’s commitment to boosting transit options.
But his opponent in the special election, Councilwoman Erica Gilmore, announced she was making a U-turn on the plan and now opposes it. The Nashville Business Journal reported she called it "unworkable" and said it "distracts from the things that are most important," like education funding, affordable housing and the rising cost of living.
And at a debate Tuesday night hosted by The Tennessean at the Nashville Public Library, two groups put their case to voters. In his opening remarks, Transit for Nashville representative Charles Bone said the plan is a "multi-generational investment' and will be worth it. "I believe this plan as developed over several years with input from thousands of Nashvillians is our best chance to take the next step forward as a city to reduce congestion and also recognize that we have major issues with affordability, accessibility and opportunity," he said.
In response, Jeff Obafemi Carr of opponent group NoTax4Tracks said the plan as written is littered with uncertainty, and the raising of sales tax as part of four separate tax hikes to pay for it will hit low-income residents hardest. And he said the use of the majority of the plan to pay for downtown light rail is unfair on those outside the city’s core. "The rest of us in the congested areas, we get the bus and the bill," he said.
Before resigning, Barry addressed what she called "transit myths," and said that a minority of opponents and naysayers should not stand in the way of progress. With less than three weeks to go until election day, there is sure to be plenty of discussion and debate from both sides ahead of a crucial referendum.