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Transportation

Nashville's Transit Fight Just Got Weird

On May 1, voters will decide the fate of a massive regional transit overhaul. And things are getting ugly.
Nashville voters are set to decide the fate of an ambitious transit plan on May 1.
Nashville voters are set to decide the fate of an ambitious transit plan on May 1. Erik Schelzig/AP

On May 1, Nashville voters are set to decide the fate of a $5.4 billion transit plan known as Let’s Move Nashville. It’s a potentially transformative proposal, one that could reshape Music City for generations. If passed, the plan will create five new light rail lines totaling 26 miles, a 1.8 mile downtown transit tunnel, 19 transit centers around the city, four new bus rapid transit lines, four new crosstown bus routes, and a slew of signal, sidewalk, and bike infrastructure improvements. Thanks to a legal opening created by some creative political work, funding will come from raising four city taxes. The bulk of the revenue will come from an increase in sales tax, which by 2023 will go up a full point to 10.25 percent.

The referendum has ignited a passionate, often downright strange public debate, one that’s in keeping with the plan’s sweeping ambitions and serious price tag. (The plan is also referred to as a $8.9 billion transit plan, since Nashville’s Metro Council voted to include both dollar amounts on the ballot; the larger number includes interest and operating expenses.) There’s only one thing people seem to agree on: This is the biggest decision to come down the pike, so to speak, in Nashville for a long time.