A Rebuttal to "Why Light Rail Makes No Sense for Nashville"

by: Jim Morinec, Retired Vice President, Transportation at AECOM Technical Services, Inc.

The recent article by Aaron M. Renn titled “Why Light Rail Makes No Sense for Nashville” is misleading and needs to be put in proper perspective. The article states Mayor Megan Barry’s proposed plan is for a new 26-mile light rail system with a cost of $5.2 billion. Light rail is only one part of the proposed transit system. The proposed budget will fund a number of major components that include converting the bus fleet to electric, expanding and improving bus routes, light rail, a downtown tunnel, neighborhood transit centers, sidewalks, and 50 years of operations, maintenance and replacement budget.

I worked for over 40 years in the transportation industry, most notably with AECOM, a multinational engineering firm, and have planned and designed projects involving all modes for transportation throughout the United States. After reading Mr. Renn’s article, I felt inclined to offer a rebuttal due to the numerous inaccuracies in the piece. 

First, Mr. Renn uses data from 2011 to support his claims. 

Anyone who has lived in Nashville since then knows that our city looks nothing like it did six years ago, especially in regard to the ever-increasing density in the urban core.

The explosion of multifamily housing in downtown Nashville, along prominent corridors and in commercial centers in Davidson County supports the fact that many people are moving away from large suburban lots for the convenience of being near work, shopping and entertainment.  For these people, owning a car may be unnecessary or unwanted. These areas are well-suited for light rail.

Mr. Renn cites Nashville’s historical spread-out development pattern as an impediment to successful transit, but doesn’t acknowledge that transportation infrastructure influences development more than any other single factor. If you compare a map of the mid-state region from the 1980s and today, you’ll see the development of the region has followed the interstate roadway system. The Let’s Move Nashville transit plan will influence future development patterns because people want to live where they have dependable transportation that will get them where they need to go.

Businesses are no different in their need to be near quality transportation options. Amazon recently announced it’s looking for a location to establish a second headquarters. One of the requirements is the location must have direct access to transit (bus or rail).

To sustain our quality of life, we need to develop alternative transportation systems. “Systems” is a key word since transportation is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Integrated systems, such as what Mayor Barry proposes, can serve multiple purposes. A person who drives to work daily might choose a transit alternative when attending a sporting or other major event. Similarly, if a weather event has the roads tied up, a transit alternative could look pretty good.

Building a transit system with several integrated and related modes will have huge impacts to the future of Nashville. The decision to support the project needs to come from local residents who have been presented with accurate information. Maybe Mr. Renn should spend some time in the area to understand why this well-thought-out, integrated transit system makes sense for Nashville.

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