Can Middle Tennessee counties band together to relieve traffic congestion? That’s a key question in a new report that details how the Nashville area has fallen behind seven peer cities.
The comparison by the group Moving Forward — backed by business leaders and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce — says Nashville is the biggest city in the country without dedicated funding for mass transit.
In other places — like Charlotte, Atlanta and Raleigh — there’s some slice of taxes going solely into transit. It’s often a portion of the sales tax.
The result is a big difference in funding, as well as more difficulties in securing federal grants, which often require a local match.
“The tool that the Middle Tennessee region does not possess is dedicated funding for transit. … Until that funding is present, the future steps of construction and operations are moot,” the report states.
Another piece of the challenge is the perception that each county that wants to participate in a regional plan would need to pass its own tax referendum.
But there could be another way. The report says officials have overlooked a state law from 2009 (see report excerpt below). That’s when the legislature gave special power to the Regional Transit Authority.
Right now, the RTA operates one train line and a few commuter buses. But it is empowered to set up its own taxation district, and the lines could be drawn to include multiple counties, if those counties are willing.
Officials haven’t seriously considered doing this, and the option has been overshadowed by the more recent IMPROVE Act, which gave individual localities the authority to raise taxes for transit.
But the report suggests it might be time to revisit the RTA method, especially since so many local mayors have been saying that they want a regional transit system.