Capitol Comments

Nashville transit advocates are left pondering the future and examining what went wrong after a transit ballot referendum was defeated in the May 1 Tennessee primary. The referendum, which was made possible by state legislation approved last year, would have increased four taxes to fund a multi-billion dollar transit plan that included five light rail lines, a tunnel under downtown, new electric buses, bus rapid transit lines and two-dozen new neighborhood transit centers. Sixty-four percent of voters rejected the measure and the defeat appears likely to have potential long-term implications for the city’s transportation system, politics and economic interests and could provide lessons to other communities around the country that may be looking to upgrade transit offerings in the years ahead.  

Despite some recent setbacks to the industry, including the Uber and Tesla crashes that resulted in fatalities in Arizona and California in March, many states and communities say they are still moving forward with efforts to encourage the safe testing of driverless vehicles in their jurisdictions and to prepare for a future that includes more of them. Those efforts include state legislation, local zoning and planning changes, new testing requirements and the introduction of driverless shuttles on college campuses and elsewhere. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest developments around the country.

Voters in Nashville will head to the polls May 1 to consider a ballot measure that would increase four taxes to pay for a multibillion-dollar mass transit proposal. The referendum was made possible by Tennessee’s 2017 transportation funding legislation, known as the IMPROVE Act, which in addition to increasing gas and diesel taxes and registration fees also allowed voters in the state’s largest counties and four largest cities to consider local tax increases that would be dedicated to transit projects. The Nashville referendum is perhaps the most significant transportation-related initiative on the ballot in the 2018 primaries and is being touted as Music City’s best opportunity to keep mounting traffic woes at bay in the years ahead.

With many legislatures wrapping up sessions this month or already adjourned sine die, it seems like a good time to check in on efforts to seek additional transportation revenues. This year appears to be holding true to form as an even-number election year when votes for gas tax increases and other measures are a bit harder to come by. Still, some states have experienced limited success in moving measures while others remain hopeful for action this year on the transportation funding front.

Following a nationwide search for a place in which to locate its second headquarters, Amazon is expected to announce a winner perhaps soon from among a group of 20 finalists announced in January. As I noted in a post last Fall, the heated competition for HQ2 has not only demonstrated the growing importance of ecommerce and logistics to the nation’s economy but also allowed communities to tout existing infrastructure assets or proposed infrastructure improvements as part of their bids to attract the project. As the finalists have tried to shore up their bids in recent weeks and those that failed to make the list have begun to examine what went wrong, transportation and infrastructure issues have come into play in a variety of ways.

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