Metro council members Freddie O’Connell and Burkley Allen with members of LiUNA at the Transit for Nashville Get Out the Vote kickoff event. Transit For Nashville spokesman Walter Searcy is center.

Referendum on May 1 ballot; Early voting begins April 11

NASHVILLE, TN — It’s no secret that the people of North Nashville suffered greatly, and continue to do so in large part today, by the federal government’s decision to build I-40 right through the heart of the community. This transit plan will better connect this neighborhood and its businesses to the rest of the city.

The current transit plan places great importance on creating equity in our city. You can’t have an affordable city without affordable housing and transportation, and Let’s Move Nashville does both.

One of the first benefits we will see with the plan is the immediate increase in bus service. For instance, the operating hours on the Charlotte Avenue and Bordeaux bus routes – plus the free Music City Circuit, which now goes to Jefferson Street to TSU and back downtown – will be extended to 5:15–1:15 a.m. Monday–Saturday. That’s 20 hours of service a day. Sundays will see hours extended to 6:15 a.m.–10:15 p.m.

The plan will create a light rail, which will run from Ed Temple Boulevard, passing TSU, Meharry, Fisk and Jefferson Street before going down Charlotte Avenue, to downtown and Music City Central, where it will also connect with the new downtown tunnel.

The plan mandates that people living at or below the poverty level get to use public transportation free, helping alleviate the cost of getting around and assisting in moving people toward financial independence.

“This transit plan is also the best step forward we can make as a city to address the potential 31,000 affordable housing unit shortage we could face if no action is taken,” says Walter Searcy, MTA board member and spokesman for the Transit For Nashville coalition. “No other initiative will come close to creating the incentives necessary for the construction of affordable housing in Nashville.”

Another key component of Let’s Move Nashville is its commitment to 30 percent disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) participation in its construction. This isn’t window dressing or something to scoff at; this is a real and sizable commitment to having our city’s transit system be built by many of the people it will serve.

Transit For Nashville spokesman Walter Searcy speaks to the crowd at the Let’s Move Nashville kickoff event.

Metro has also committed to work to get black-owned businesses registered and certified with the city – as well as pushing to improve their capacity – ahead of the project, to ensure that a large number of DBE businesses are involved in building the transit system. In particular, Metro’s office of Minority and Women Business Assistance (BAO) has done much of the heavy lifting to increase minority participation citywide.

“We have come a long way in terms of equal representation in city projects,” says Ashford Hughes, senior adviser for Workforce, Diversity and Inclusion in the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development. “Though we still have a way to go, this transit plan offers a huge opportunity to the people and businesses of our community to get engaged early, and be partners in the construction of our city’s biggest project ever.”

The 2017 Benchmark Report for Metro, conducted by a third-party consultant, found that there has been improved DBE participation in recent Metro projects. From 2014–2016, DBE participation rose steadily, though incrementally. It shows that there is much work to be done.

There’s no doubt that Metro should continue to make legitimate DBE participation a prerequisite for any of its projects, as well as doing things like offering tax incentives for large-scale developments in Nashville that deliver on their own quality DBE participation. We can always do better and should never stop advocating for equal opportunities for DBE businesses in our city.

Let’s Move Nashville will be Davidson County’s largest development project ever. We have the ability to make a huge economic impact on our community, not just with DBE participation, but with the new economic opportunities and thousands of high-wage jobs it will create per year.

It’s important to remember that this plan was put together after four-plus years of community engagement. After May 1, community engagement will continue at every turn of the process.

If we say no to this plan due to any extenuating circumstances, we will miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see DBE participation in Nashville’s projects make the meaningful progress it deserves.

Let’s Move Nashville is expected to be completed in 2040. That’s 22 years of potential DBE participation and job creation we stand to lose if we don’t vote for it this May.

We will also miss out on creating the incentives necessary for affordable and workforce housing construction that we so desperately need in our city. If the plan doesn’t pass in May, it means there will be NO dedicated funding to do any of this. We can’t afford to not take action.