Mayor Barry rolls out plan for light rail

BY KATE COIL

TML Communications Specialist

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry laid down plans for the city’s first light-rail line along the Gallatin Road corridor during her annual state address, one of the first major municipal transportation projects proposed since the passage of Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act.

The IMPROVE Act gives municipalities across the state the ability to hold local public referendums to raises funds for transit projects  by imposing surcharges on sales tax. Barry was one of several municipal leaders and transportation advocates who supported the act, and proposed the $6 billion light rail project at the State of Metro Address.

The project will also be the first modern light-rail project undertaken in the state. Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, and Knoxville all once had street car systems during the late 1800s or early 1900s with Memphis being the last to close its heritage trolley car service in 2014.

Like the historic streetcars, modern light rail often run on electricity. The urban rail service relies on dedicated rights-of-way separate from vehicle traffic, providing one or three passenger cars that move faster than vehicles in high-volume areas of traffic.

The city of Nashville’s nMotion report suggested light rail lines should run from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., and that the typical train is 80 to 90 feet long and carries about 150 to 220 people. Gallatin is already the location of some of the busiest Nashville MTA bus lines, though the nMotion plan states light rail service is usually more rapid and stops more frequently than bus lines.

Barry said Gallatin Pike was picked among the other corridors considered for the project for a variety of reasons.

“I know we could spend the next year studying and debating where to build first, but there are many good reasons to start on Gallatin Pike,” she said. “It already carries the most mass transit riders in the region. Development along that corridor has demonstrated a market for the mixed-use, transit-oriented type of development that will be necessary to make light rail successful. Many of the neighborhoods that surround Gallatin Pike have extensive sidewalk networks. And the nMotion planning process showed those neighborhoods support comprehensive mass transit along the corridor.”

The Gallatin Pike Corridor Plan is based on the 2011 Nashville Northeast Corridor Mobility Study conducted by the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. The path of the train would stretch from downtown at Main Street through East Nashville, Madison, and Rivergate. The study said light-rail on the corridor would not only ease commute congestion but would also decrease single-occupant auto trips related to leisure activities like shopping and dining.

Additionally, the study found that light rail could make an area more attractive to businesses and residences who want to “live, work, shop, or go to school within walking distance of a station.” New jobs created by both the operation of light rail as well as associated retail and business created near light rail stations could total $64 million, also enhancing state and city property, income and sales taxes.

While Barry expressed her own eagerness to “drive across the river and put a shovel in the ground,” she acknowledged that the process to bring light rail to Gallatin may not be an easy one.

“We have plenty of work to do before we send that first train down the line,” Barry said. “This process won’t be quick or easy. It will involve detailed planning and land acquisition. There will be some arguments, there’s going to be some hiccups, and there’s going to be some headaches. We’ll have to have honest conversations, and some people aren’t going to be happy with every decision.”

During her address, Barry also emphasized that the time to move on transportation projects cannot wait.

“We have to move forward,” she said. “We have to act now to prevent congestion from threatening our prosperity and compromising our quality of life. Nashville cannot wait any longer to embrace our future. We will be a 21st -century, transit-oriented city, and we are not going to look back 10 years from now and say we failed when we had to succeed.”

Gallatin Pike is not the only corridor the city of Nashville has considered for light rail. In the next 25 years, Barry said there are also plans to further the city’s light rail network on Charlotte Pike, Murfreesboro Pike, Nolensville Pike, and the Northwest Corridor between north Nashville and Clarksville.

Gallatin Light Rail Map
A map of proposed stops along the Gallatin Pike light rail line from the
Nashvillle Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2011 Northeast Corridor
Mobility Study.