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Nashville Mayor’s $5.2 Billion Transit Plan Proposes Free Fares for Some

(Photo by Michael Rivera)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects and ideas worldwide.

Nashville Mayor Outlines $5.2 Billion Regional Transit Plan
“Let’s move Nashville,” Mayor Megan Barry urged an audience of supporters at the Music City Center Tuesday as she officially took the wraps off a regional transit proposal that will be the largest and most complex public works project in the history of Metro Nashville if the voters approve the taxes needed to pay for it.

The Tennessean reports that the $5.2 billion plan calls for 26 miles of light-rail rapid transit in six corridors, including a direct connection to Nashville International Airport. The lines would converge in a $900 million, 1.8-mile-long subway tunnel under downtown Nashville with three stations. The first of these lines would open for service in 2026.

In addition to light rail, the plan calls for rapid bus routes operating in an additional four corridors, two dozen neighborhood transit centers around rapid bus and light-rail stations and immediate upgrades to existing bus service that would introduce 15-minute headways at peak hours on busy routes, increased frequency and 20-hour operation for bus routes across Davidson County, and service improvements that will cut travel times on some routes by as much as 80 percent.

The proposal also envisions eliminating transit fares for Nashville residents who live at or below the federal poverty line.

To pay for all this, Barry proposes two half-cent hikes in the sales tax, one next July and the other in 2023, two similarly phased-in increases in the city’s hotel-motel tax that would bring it to 6.375 percent, a 20 percent increase in the business and excise tax, and a 20 percent surcharge on the local car rental tax. Under provisions of a state law passed last year that gives Tennessee cities broad leeway to levy taxes for infrastructure improvements, the new local taxes would expire in 50 years. Barry also said the city would pursue federal funding to help finance the plan.

Barry plans to submit legislation to Metro Council in December in order to get the tax proposals on the May election ballot.

Bay Area Bridge Tolls May Rise to Pay for Transportation Projects
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that will allow San Francisco Bay Area residents to approve a hike in bridge tolls that would raise up to $4.5 billion for a raft of transportation projects, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

At least 36 projects either currently underway or planned would receive funding from the proposed toll hike, which would appear on the ballot sometime in 2018 as Regional Measure 3.

The projects would be spread across all nine Bay Area counties, with a little extra for the most heavily urbanized areas. They would also continue the region’s emphasis on public transportation: While some road widenings, interchange improvements and express highway lane projects are included in the package, no new roads would be built.

San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge

What would be built as part of the package is the last leg of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) extension around the East Bay to San Jose, a Caltrain extension to the Transbay Terminal, and a SMART commuter rail extension to Windsor and Healdsburg.

The measure would also provide money to expand transit vehicle fleets all around the Bay Area: new railcars for BART and Muni Metro, additional boats to allow the San Francisco Bay Ferry to add new routes, and new buses for regional express service, transbay service and bus rapid transit in the East Bay.

The major road projects that would be funded by the measure include widening the Novato Narrows and expanding the Bay Area express lane network, which converts high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes that would allow solo drivers to buy a quicker trip.

For the toll hike to take effect, a majority of voters in all nine Bay Area counties must cast ballots in favor of the move. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will decide how and when to stage the election early next year.

The bill is noteworthy for taking a regional approach to paying for Bay Area transportation improvements. If the measure is approved, tolls would rise on all the state-owned toll bridges in the Bay Area. Tolls would not rise on the Golden Gate Bridge, which is owned by an independent public agency.

Northern Virginia Begins Plans for Major Rail Expansion
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority is finally drawing up plans for spending the funds that will be coming the region’s way thanks to a dedicated funding stream approved by the Virginia legislature in 2013, the International Railway Journal reports.

Northern Virginia Silver Line station (Photo by Ryan Stavely)

The update of the NVTA’s TransAction Plan is designed to address the region’s transportation needs through 2040. It identifies a total of 342 transportation projects that should be undertaken over that time span at a total cost of $43.2 billion. Among them: more Washington Metro extensions, presumably including completion of the Silver Line to Dulles Airport, capacity and service improvements for Virginia Railway Express, and construction of new light-rail lines.

The projects would allow the region to cope with a projected 24 percent rise in population and 37 percent jump in employment over the next 22 years.

The NVTA has also issued a call for proposals from the region’s transportation agencies for projects to be completed between 2018 and 2023. The deadline for applications is December 15.

Know of a project that should be included in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.