Tennessee Passes Mind-Boggling Ban On Rapid Bus Transit | Wired
Tennessee lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor a bill that bans the construction of bus rapid transit (BRT) anywhere in the state.
The impetus for the vote was a proposal to build a $174 million BRT system in Nashville called The Amp, which would’ve ran on a 7.1 mile route and served rapidly growing neighborhoods across the city. There’s a more detailed summary of the project over at The Tennessean.
Although BRT has been shown to revitalize economies and reduce congestion, opponents of The Amp voiced concerns about the safety of unloading bus passengers along roadways and whether private land would be used to build dedicated bus lanes.
After the vote, Amp opponents revealed that the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, founded with the support of brothers Charles and David Koch, had lobbied in favor of the bus ban.
The legislation is startlingly specific: Senate Bill 2243 forbids “constructing, maintaining or operating any bus rapid transit system.”
The Senate version of the BRT ban also forbids buses from “loading or discharging passengers at any point within the boundary lines of a state highway or state highway right-of-way not adjacent to the right-hand, lateral curb line.” Though the House struck that provision and sent revised legislation back to the Senate, it would still require special approval from the Tennessee Department of Transportation and local government bodies.
It’s a hard line, and an unusual one.
Normally, the easiest way to kill a public transit project is to pull its funding. Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii and Utah all forbid state funding for public transit systems, for instance, but even that isn’t foolproof: Utah’s taken on some major commuter rail expansions lately, and Phoenix uses county tax revenues to pay for its transit system.
Voters in Arlington, TX famously voted against public transit funding for decades, and an acrimonious debate in Cincinnati almost derailed a streetcar project, but both those cities now have service.
A formal ban on BRT is about the only way that Tennessee could ensure that The Amp didn’t get built as intended. Already, the project seems to be watered down. Nashville’s mayor—a proponent of the project—has ordered a study that would redesign the system to avoid using dedicated lanes (PDF).
Now, drivers in Nashville can look forward to increased traffic and longer commutes. But at least those pesky buses won’t be in the way.
(Photo Credit: Amp Yes)