Summary Against NTIP’s Light Rail & Tunnel

The future of Nashville is at stake. The NTIP Referendum is the most important vote in our city’s history. If it is passed, Nashville taxpayers will be forced to build a $8.9 billion light rail/tunnel that: 1.) will not solve traffic congestion and likely will make it worse; 2.) will be a catastrophic financial burden on our city for 42 years, placing our city in a compromised economic position, and 3.) create light rail lines that 95% or more of citizens will never use, and which in 10 years or less will be completely obsolete. All points explained below as space allows. Visit the Better Transit Facebook Page to join the movement & learn all the details. The only hope for transit and for Nashville in general is that we the public vote NO in the NTIP plan referendum. Why?

  1. Light rail sounds “flashy” but does not reduce traffic. Ridership in big cities (avg populations of 6 million, like Dallas, Houston, Denver etc; Nashville is only 1.8M) which have regional light rail is 1.5% of the population per 25/sq miles (Nashville’s planned distance). Our current bus ridership percentage of commuters is 2%.
  2. Public transit – bus, light rail – is declining at 3% per year here & nationally. The new tech & sharing economy are changing how we all commute, travel, live, work & play, every year, every month. Public transit is dying and does not reduce traffic, yet Metro wants to spend $9 billion to continue to prop it up. MTA will lose $2.2 billion from 2018-2032 on the current MTA services. More below.

Why is light rail ineffective? Many reasons. There is no incentive to ride it. It is very slow, only 15 mph. Riders have to: travel to the station; wait for the slow cars to get there; stop with every stop; then travel/walk to their destination. Commutes will likely take longer than car commutes.

In big cities like NYC/Boston/Washington DC with avg populations of 10.5 million & avg population densities of 14,000/sq mile, mass transit helps move people, yes.

But to put Nashville in that category is absolutely ludicrous. We have 1.8M CSA pop. and population density of 1,300/sq. mile, with 5th largest land area in the nation of cities. The NTIP plan is wrong for Nashville.

Moreover, Nashville’s five (5) main roadways, where light rail lines are planned, are only four lanes, not six. With light rail, those four vital lanes are reduced to two or at best three, greatly restricting traffic flow, when the ENTIRE goal of every city’s traffic plan is to increase flow of traffic. If Metro really wants to fight traffic congestion, why aren’t they implementing all the great traffic tech strategies used in other cities? There are dozens of them. The reasons include govt inefficiency, bureaucracy, and politicians who care more about “image” than substance (to put it nicely).

About the loss of vital lanes, VU Professor & transit expert Malcolm Getz says: “A major omission in the plan is the lack of analysis of the effect of the transit program on the capacity of the altered streets to move traffic.”

Who created the NTIP plan? MTA & a group of mayors from outside of Davidson Co. The Council asked to be included and was NOT. Ridiculous.

NTIP is no way a regional transit plan; it is only a city plan, which we already have: MTA and it’s 96 bus routes.

How is MTA doing? MTA loses $77 million a year and self-funds only 16% of its budget. From 2018-2032, the years of NTIP buildout, MTA will lose $2.2 BILLION on the current MTA services, not including the new build out and unneeded light rail lines. In govt, trends usually continue and get worse. If the same results continue – massive losses on bus and light rail – the combined annual losses on MTA service and the rail lines will be staggering, with Nashville taxpayers paying for it and only 2-4% at most of commuters using the overall system of buses and 15 mph rail.

If public transit is declining; if MTA is failing miserably; if light rail does not work in other cities much bigger than Nashville; why is Mayor Barry pushing for it?

After studying light rail for 20+ years, VU’s Getz writes: “Light rail only serves the ego of the politicians who implement it.”

NTIP will be very dangerous and even catastrophic for Nashville’s economy. Bonds will finance the light rails, which are 90% of the cost. Bonds are a massive, billion-dollar loan the Nashville taxpayers take out and have to pay back over time. The city itself is the “collateral,” just like a home is worth enough to merit a mortgage, which we pay back with lots of interest over time.

We get the loan in 2023 and pay on it for 37 years, until 2060. By 2031, Nashville taxpayers will be paying $166 million just on debt service and will not have paid any principle.

Around 2040, the expected flow of tax revenues will shift to a level of payment of principle and interest lasting until 2060. The plan calls this “sculpting the debt profile over time to maximize what can be spent to build out the railroads within the one-cent sales tax flow of revenue.” This scheme frightens people who understand  municipal finance that I do. A severe national recession could put our city in a compromised position.

The one-cent sales tax increase, which causes Nashville to have the highest sales tax in the nation at 10.25%, is not even close to what the city needs for the $3-4 billion for light rail and the overall plan.

Metro has not implemented the great traffic congestion technology used in so many cities, like Goog Smart Stop Lights & much more. If the Mayor really wanted to solve traffic congestion, there would be a comprehensive plan to implement effective strategies, even involving the public. Instead, they are attempting the biggest transit project per capita in U.S. history. If they have not implemented the smaller strategies, have not tried, what makes us think they will be able to handle and manage the biggest one in state history? Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.

If Metro has completely mismanaged MTA bus service and its $89 million budget ($77M in losses), how will they be able to handle the massive MTA/Light Rail budgets in the future, when the operating budget alone, not including build out, will be $350 million? ($240M current MTA; $100M light rail & new MTA; chart below).