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Fox 17 News Investigates: Nashville's proposed underground tunnel, smart or foolish?

(FOX 17 NEWS)

If Nashville had an official post card, the honky tonks on lower Broadway would almost certainly be on it.

Brenda Sanderson and her husband own four of those iconic clubs on lower Broadway.

“These are very historic, very iconic buildings," Sanderson said. "They're important to the city of Nashville. They're important to country music."

The music played in those clubs is one of the big reasons people visit Nashville.

The $8.9 billion transit plan Davidson County residents vote on May 1st calls for a bus tunnel that would go right under Fifth Avenue, below The Legends Corner honky tonk and the historic Ryman Auditorium behind it.

Some like Madison home builder Michael Craddock consider the tunnel nothing short of foolish.

“It’s limestone," Craddock said. "Go ask any big builder about the limestone in the ground in this part of the country. And we’re gonna build a tunnel? A 2-mile tunnel. How do they think of something like that?"

The former Metro Councilman fears the tunnel could help push the plan's $8.9 billion price tag closer to $20 billion. Craddock points to the "Big Dig" project under downtown Boston.

That tunnel cost almost fifteen billion dollars, which was five times the original estimate, took 20 years to complete and continues to hamstring new road projects across the entire state of Massachusetts because of the debt.

For the owners of Legends, The Stage and two other downtown clubs, this project is a lot more personal.

“You could say the tunnel is not going to impact you, but how can it not impact us," Brenda Sanderson said. "We are in a over one hundred year old buildings and they’re fragile. The infrastructure underneath them is fragile."

She worries their customers will be pushed away possibly for years. Sanderson also worries about having the highest sales tax in the nation at 10.5 percent, which is part of framework to pay for the transit plan.

“There’s no question there will be moments of disruption," Metro Councilman Freddie O'Connell said.

The tunnel would cut across his district. O'Connell understands the concerns but says a tunnel is the only thing metro hasn't tried.

"It’s one of those feats of urban engineering, and I think if we discover through that feasibility testing up front that it is not possible, we’ll just come back and try something else,” O'Connell said.

Nashville's most recent tunnel project connects the Tennessee State Capitol and the newly renovated Cordell Hull building where state lawmakers have offices. That 450 foot tunnel was part of a $126 million project.

The numbers for a two mile tunnel will be much larger.

Councilman O'Connell says if Nashville votes no, it could be years before another plan could be back before voters. That's because the Metro Charter calls for a year in between referendums. Some of the tax increases in this transit plan also had to be approved by the state legislature, and that would have to be done all over again.

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