State legislation to allow the four major urban areas in Tennessee to create dedicated a funding source for mass transit was unanimously approved by the state House and Senate this week — a move advocates are calling a historic step forward for mass transportation.
The legislation was approved unanimously by both the Senate and the House.
“[Wednesday’s] vote was a huge step forward for transportation in Middle Tennessee and for regionalism,” Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said. “As I have said all along, this is a critical component of creating true mass transit in the region and for making us eligible to receive necessary federal funds for things such as light rail and commuter rail. I appreciate the Legislature’s support of this effort.”
The enabling legislation clears the way for a dedicated funding source to be created for mass transit. The unknown funding source would be approved either by voter referendum or by the local legislative body. The legislation had support of all the city and county mayors in the Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Memphis areas.
Greg Adkins, the president of the Tennessee Public Transportation Association, called the unanimous votes “the biggest thing that’s happened for public transportation in Tennessee in decades.”
Adkins, who also serves as the District 26 Metro Council member, said the enabling legislation was necessary in order to expand and improve mass transit options in the major metropolitan areas.
“Our region has sat around and talked about this for a long time,” Adkins said. “It took a lot of great minds and really hard working people to make this happen.”
Rep. Janis Sontany (D-Nashville) said improving mass transit is an issue that bleeds into environmental concerns and economic development.
“We’re very tuned in to all the issues about air quality, so for environmental sustainability and also for economic growth, this was incredibly important,” Sontany said.
The next step is to determine what the dedicated funding source will be, and Adkins said that decision should come with extensive public input. Dean has said publicly many times that improving mass transit is the top issue he hears about from young Nashville residents.
The Nashville Area Metro Planning Organization is developing a regional mass transit master plan, which will be completed later this year or early next year. That plan will serve as a starting point for identifying dedicated funding options.
“The next step is to develop a plan that is appropriate for the region — one that is focused on a better future, but remains fiscally responsible for today,” MPO Director Michael Skipper said. “Only then will we be able to have an idea of what it will take to implement new services and how we might pay for them.
“Working with citizens and the business community, we hope to pull that plan together before next Summer, with discussions for how to move forward following shortly thereafter.”