Nov. 7, 2017 – Nashville Business Journal – By: Meg Garner
Mayor Megan Barry’s plan for light rail along Charlotte Avenue has another critic: one of the city’s most valuable allies in the General Assembly.
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, who represents West Nashville, told the Nashville Business Journal he is concerned that Barry’s plan only budgets for 2.5 miles of light rail along the fast-growing corridor.
“I don’t care if it’s light rail, beefed up [bus-rapid transit] or autonomous shuttles, but Charlotte and West Nashville to Bellevue needs to be addressed,” Clemmons said. “We’re failing not only my district, but the city as a whole.”
Clemmons — who has directly expressed his concerns with the mayor’s office — is not the only lawmaker skeptical of the mayor’s plan for Charlotte Avenue. Metro Council members Kathleen Murphy and Mary Carolyn Roberts have also publicly criticized the line, noting that ending it at Interstate 440 near 31st Avenue North stops short of several popular, growing neighborhoods, such as The Nations.
During the legislative session, Clemmons was a vocal supporter for the local option portion of the Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, which helped pave the way Barry’s upcoming transit referendum. Prior to the January session, Clemmons rolled out his own transportation funding plan, which also included enabling legislation for local governments to fund mass-transit projects. Clemmons said he has pushed for local mass-transit funding since he was first elected in November 2014.
The pushback from pro-transit allies like Clemmons showcases the difficult balance the mayor must strike between staying within a reasonable budget and pleasing a wide swath of Davidson County in order to build the coalition she’ll need to pass her $5.2 billion referendum.
Clemmons said he will ultimately support the mayor’s referendum proposal, noting that Nashville is too far behind the curve to do nothing.
“The referendum isn’t the finish line, and other than Gallatin Pike and the [downtown] tunnel, everything is up in the air,” he said. “But you’ve got to have the money to solve the problem. … You would hope the system is being designed around the populations that will use it.”
In response to the earlier criticisms from Murphy and Roberts, Sean Braisted, Barry’s spokesman, said: “We absolutely want these lines to go further, but we also wanted to be fiscally responsible in our cost estimates to ensure that there are no issues with overpromising and underdelivering in a first phase of construction.”
Braisted previously told The Tennessean it would cost an additional $100 million to $125 million per mile to extend light rail on Charlotte Avenue.
For being the shortest route included in the mayor’s plan, Charlotte Avenue light rail has one of the highest costs per mile, costing $182.8 million per mile. Its price tag only trails downtown’s underground portion of the plan, which at 1.8 miles long is estimated to cost $520 million per mile.