The Koch Brothers Want to Keep Nashville Mired in Traffic

The Koch brothers are trying to torpedo a transit plan that's both big enough to inspire and grounded in the technical details of what makes transit work well. Map: Let's Move Nashville
The Koch brothers are trying to torpedo a transit plan that's both big enough to inspire and grounded in the technical details of what makes transit work well. Map: Let's Move Nashville

Nashville is at an inflection point. The fast-growing region is adding about 30,000 residents a year, and its transportation system isn’t keeping up.

Nashville’s highways are clogged with car traffic. Most residents have no appealing alternative to sitting in gridlock. Many of the city’s streets lack sidewalks. The transit network has very low ridership and receives scant public funding compared to peer cities.

This May, voters in Davidson County, most of whom live in Nashville, will decide whether to move forward with a $5 billion transit plan to create a network of light rail and bus rapid transit routes. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has spearheaded the initiative, with support from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.

But here comes the dark money. The Tennessean reports that “Americans for Prosperity,” the primary weapon in the Koch brothers’ right-wing activist arsenal, is mounting a campaign to defeat the ballot measure.

It’s deja vu in Nashville, where Americans for Prosperity helped sink an earlier city plan for bus rapid transit, working through the GOP-led state legislature to threaten funding for the project. The May referendum would create a funding stream impervious to that kind of pressure.

It’s also standard operating procedure for the Koch brothers, who’ve funded all sorts of assaults on transit through the various tentacles of their network. Their campaigns are typically based on deception, fearmongering, conspiracy theories, and appeals to tribalism.

Will their misinformation campaign work in Nashville?

Working in favor of the plan that Barry has put forward is its ambition and technical quality. It’s both big enough to inspire and grounded in the details of what makes transit work well. If Nashville residents want to live in a place where walking and transit are viable travel options, this blueprint will deliver.

The expansion will add five light rail routes and five bus rapid transit routes, with a short downtown subway section to bypass the most intense surface traffic. Policy experts give the plan high marks for serving the areas of Nashville where transit ridership will be greatest.

The plan also calls for major increases in bus frequency, implemented quickly, as well as investments in pedestrian safety. It’s a walk-to-transit plan, not a park-and-ride plan.

The big question is whether Nashville voters can envision a different future for the city. Most of Nashville today is low-slung and car-centric. The Koch-funded opposition will be making appeals to stick with the status quo that people are familiar with.

But if residents are ready for a change and want to opt out of gridlock, they can vote to turn the corner on traffic-choked sprawl and embrace a walkable future.

  • Sean

    “because you want people stuck in traffic.”
    Refers to my initial post, which is a criticism of the headline of this ‘article’.
    People flew to the defense of it and haven’t been able to actually justify it.
    Essentially; the author disagrees with the Koch Brothers, so he or she pretends that they have nothing but evil motivations which is reductive and crass.

  • Nick Stevenson

    Urbanites lean left. The Kochs, being the primary funders of the right, have an obvious reason for wanting cities to not function well and to attract fewer residents.

  • onix

    Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in the US, with an affordablility drawing millenials.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Cities vote Democratic.

  • Noibn48

    Given how crass their Americans For Prosperity campaign ads are, their is a reason to attribute base motives to those economic royalists.

  • nullbull

    The problem is, you can’t disagree on the facts. Only your opinions. Enjoy your unreality bubble.

  • eveee

    These labels get distorted, but the reality of those in power is constant.

  • neroden

    The Koch brothers’ fortune is based on fossil fuels, and specifically petroleum. They are openly opposed to anything which would stop American dependence on petroleum. Basically they’re like ExxonMobil only more doctrinaire.

  • neroden

    The Kochs get most of their money from oil drilling, pumping, refining, and pipelines. (This is easy enough to verify. Most of the rest of their money is from chopping down virgin forest.) They are therefore openly hostile to anything which would reduce Americans’ dependence on oil.

  • neroden

    Wikipedia is your friend:

    “Wood River Oil and Refining Company was renamed Koch Industries in 1968 in honor of Fred Koch,”

    “Flint Hills Resources LP, originally called Koch Petroleum Group, is a major refining and chemicals company based in Wichita, Kansas. It sells products such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, ethanol, polymers, intermediate chemicals, base oils and asphalt. It operates oil refineries in six states. Flint Hills has chemical plants in Illinois, Texas and Michigan.”

    “Acquired from DuPont, INVISTA is a polymer and fibers company” (petroleum derived)

    “Koch Ag & Energy Solutions, LLC and its subsidiaries, including Koch Fertilizer, LLC, Koch Agronomic Services, LLC, Koch Energy Services, LLC and Koch Methanol, LLC, globally provide products including fertilizer” (petroleum derived)

    “Koch Chemical Technology Group, Ltd. and its subsidiaries” (chemical refinery support equipment)

    “Koch-Glitsch is an entity of Koch Industries. Koch-Glitsch engineers mass transfer and mist elimination equipment for refineries and chemical plants around the world.”

    “Koch Minerals, LLC through its subsidiaries, is one of the world’s largest managers of dry-bulk commodities, and is also involved in oil and gas exploration and production, the production of oil field products,…”

    “Koch Pipeline Company LP, which owns and operates 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of pipeline used to transport oil, natural gas liquids and chemicals.”

    “Koch Supply & Trading companies around the world trade crude oil, refined petroleum products, gas liquids, natural gas, liquefied natural gas,…”

    The Koch Brothers also own Georgia Pacific Paper, Molex, and a cattle ranch, but the vast majority of their holdings are petroleum-related.

  • neroden

    The vast majority of the Koch industries money is in oil and gas. Even the ag-related ones are petroleum-derived products.

    They have a massive interest in refining and pipelines. It’s a very large percentage of their business.

  • neroden

    Reliable, inexpensive light rail has been a reality in hundreds of cities worldwide for decades already. And whenever it gets built, it is so popular that it tends to be overcrowded instantly and needs to be expanded.

    I guess maybe you should visit reality someday. Or at least San Diego.

  • neroden

    Sorry, but everyone who can do basic arithmetic knows that rail has more capacity than cars. Just because WMATA is run by idiots doesn’t change that.

    Also, autonomous cars simply can’t drive more closely together. Autonomous cars have to keep a safe following distance, which reckless human drivers do NOT do. Autonomous cars will increase safety but actually REDUCE capacity on roads. This is already doecumented.

  • neroden

    Hint: it’s a classic stall tactic, and it’s a pack of lies.

    Let’s run through the headfake lies which were used to prevent investment in mass transportation: “cars for everyone” (1950s), “flying cars” (1950s), “Personal Rapid Transit” (1970s), monorails (1970s), maglevs (1980s), “telecommuting will end traffic” (1980s, 1990s), gondolas (1990s), autonomous cars (1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s), Hyperloop (today)…

    I’ve forgotten some of these idiotic stall tactics, because they were all stupid ideas and it’s easy to forget them once they’ve done their propaganda work.

    Yes, the anti-train forces were really saying “Don’t build train lines because we’ll have autonomous cars soon” in 1985. I remember it well Don’t they look stupid now?

  • neroden

    OK, so Sean, literally eveerything you wrote is a lie. Stop listening to the liars you’re listening to.

    Autonomous trains have existed since the 1970s and were perfected in the 1990s.

    Autonomous cars… take up even more road space, and are even slower, than regular human-driven cars. They simply aren’t solving any problems for cities. They’re taxis, nothing more.

  • neroden

    Take a look at ridership and you’ll realize that rail travel is heavily used in many many corridors in the US — because it can carry 1200 people at a time past the parking lot freeways — but you haven’t bothered because you have doctrinaire ideas which are immune to reality.

  • neroden

    Bus lines are inflexible: they can only run on asphalt roads, and only where there are proper wheelchair-accessible bus stops.

    Train lines can run on any rail line anywhere.

    You aren’t making an argument, you know. You’re just saying “We have a lot of roads and not so many train lines.” We know that; that’s because of massive government subsidies for roads and none for train lines.

  • neroden

    Docklands Light Rail and Vancouver Skylink have been fully autonomous for over 20 years

  • neroden

    You’re an idiot. Even short headways on buses don’t even come CLOSE to the capacity of a rail line. You should actually try doing the arithmetic sometime, Sean.

    Good examples would be any crosstown NYC bus line (all overcrowded, sluggish, and failing) vs. the two crosstown subway lines (working great).

  • neroden

    While computers can *safely* run vehicles closer together than people can… in practice, probably at least 60% of drivers drive unsafely and tailgate.

    This is why in all practical tests, a road with fully automated cars has LESS capacity than a road with actual human (crazy, reckless) drivers.

  • neroden

    Sean, you’re simply outright totally wrong. There is no way for autonomous SMALL vehicles to replace LARGE trains.

    Really you need to think about people-moving capacity for about ten minutes.

  • Joel N. Weber II

    The Exclusive Bus Lane through the Lincoln Tunnel apparently can carry 750 buses in the peak hour; if you can figure out how to stuff 65 people into each bus (probably not hard with a 60′ bus), that would give you 48750 people per hour, whereas 24 trains per hour with 2000 people per train would be only 48000 people per hour. But the Port Authority Bus Terminal does seem to demonstrate that unloading 750 buses per hour is not nearly as eloquent as unloading 24 trains per hour.

    Maybe HBLR should be extended through the Lincoln Tunnel and make surface stops along 34th St?

  • Drew Gaskins

    Minor comment, but I wanted to point out that Davidson County and Nashville are one in the same. All Davidson County residents are Nashville residents.

  • Nash resident

    Not true – there are other communities in Davidson County besides Nashville. While the Nashville and Davidson county governments merged some time ago, towns like Berry Hill and Oak Hill are independent from Nashville. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davidson_County,_Tennessee#Communities for the rest.

  • LocustJones

    Still not exactly complete description – intra-metro cities like Oak Hill, Forest Hills, Belle Meade, Berry Hill, etc may have their own city halls, staff, form of government, ordinances and even police (ie. Belle Meade), but they are all still under Metro-Nashville jurisdiction and not completely independent of Metro Nashville. Nor is the county different than the Nashville city in boundaries and/or jurisdiction.

  • Nash resident

    Definitely true on the jurisdiction part, but not so regarding the Nashville city border. Residents of those other towns in Davidson county aren’t Nashville residents per Drew above, just people under the combined Davidson/Nashville jurisdiction.

    Regardless, they’re all still obviously affected by the proposed plan.

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