Jan 18, 2024 - Politics

O'Connell maneuvers toward transit referendum

Photo illustration of Nashville Mayor Freddie O'Connell with lines radiating from him.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Nashville Mayor Freddie O'Connell is advancing plans for a November referendum over funding for an ambitious expansion of the city's mass transit system.

Between the lines: In recent weeks, O'Connell plucked a transportation expert from Vanderbilt to fill a newly created position.

  • O'Connell hopes to meet with the pro-transit group Accelerator for America while in Washington, D.C., this week for the United States Conference of Mayors, a mayor's office spokesperson says.

Why it matters: O'Connell is carefully laying the foundation for the city's first swing at transit funding since the failed 2018 referendum.

  • Nashville politicians have pushed for an expansion of mass transit for decades, but the lack of a dedicated funding source has stood in the way.
  • A report by O'Connell's transition committee identified November as the best time for a referendum.

What we're watching: The connection between O'Connell and Accelerator for America is notable because the organization has a track record of transit referendum victories.

  • Accelerator for America helped pass Measure M in Los Angeles County in 2016 with 72% voter support. Measure M dedicated sales tax revenue for $120 billion worth of transit projects over 40 years.
  • A half-cent sales tax increase is the most likely primary funding source for Nashville's transit funding plan.

What he's saying: When O'Connell announced the hiring of Michael Briggs from Vanderbilt University for the temporary role of "director of transportation planning," he told reporters a decision on whether to press forward with a November ballot measure is coming soon.

  • "First and foremost, can we meet all of the conditions that would allow it to be on the ballot in the first place?" O'Connell told reporters, according to the Nashville Post. "[C]an departments, particularly WeGo and NDOT, support the planning process that would meet the financial and legal tests? I think we'll know that by the end of the month."

What's next: The logical path is for Metro Council to vote in the next few months on legislation to add the transit measure to the November ballot.

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