New approach to regional transportation outlined

Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 12:13pm

“We need to develop a bold new vision for mass transit to lead us into the 21st century,” Mayor Karl Dean told the crowd that gathered Wednesday for the unveiling of a long-term plan for mass transit in the region. 

The details, especially regarding funding, are uncertain, but the Nashville Metropolitan Planning Organization announced its “bold vision” while revealing the first iteration of its 2035 Regional Transportation Plan at the second annual "Power of Ten: Convening the Region" summit.

Mass transit improvement is a critical issue for the 10 counties comprising the Cumberland Region of Middle Tennessee. The population of that region is projected to rise by nearly 1 million residents by 2035, increasing current road congestion and transportation relation pollution. Over the next 25 years, the Regional Transportation Plan will determine how to spend roughly $5 billion on roads, bridges, transit, walking, and bicycling.

MPO Executive Director Michael Skipper highlighted three goals of the 2035 RTP: expand mass transit options, improve and expand active transportation choices (e.g. biking), and preserve and enhance current roads. He noted that the plan helps Tennessee compete for federal funding.

Listing four guiding principles — livability, sustainability, prosperity, diversity — the draft plan adopts a “fix it first” mentality. It places emphasis on improving, repairing and sustaining current transportation infrastructure before undertaking any new projects.

“First and foremost, we’ve got to fix what we have”, Skipper said. “We can’t continue to build roadways at the rate we are doing it unless we can prove that we can maintain them.”

New ideas are being considered as well. Skipper cited a study by the Texas Transportation Institute on Nashville congestion that concluded Nashvillians spend around $420 million a year on fuel consumption and lost time.

Using cities with recently implemented transit systems (Denver, Austin, Charlotte) as models, several options were listed to reduce congestion on Metro roadways. Expanding urban fixed route services, such as Bus Rapid Transit and light-rail, were among proposed solutions. Increasing regional commuter rail lines to Lebanon and adding a new line to Clarksville were also mentioned.

A potential return to urban street cars was portrayed through digital images of Nashville streets. A line was displayed running down West End and connecting downtown, Vanderbilt, St. Thomas Hospital and Centennial Park. It would loop back up 21st and Broadway.

The plan aims to expand bicycling lanes and walking communities. Skipper noted that in an urban environment, half of all trips are 3 miles or less.

Gallatin Mayor Jo Ann Graves sees a shift to mass transit as the only viable solution to the problem. Regarding I-65 traffic, she said, “We’ve added lanes of traffic and, quite frankly, there isn’t room to build anymore. Mass transit is the only long term solution that cities and towns can buy into.”

Ed Cole, executive director of the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, stressed the importance of community in the project.

“The most important thing is that the vision of public transit is moved out for public discussion by the MPO,” he said. “There will be meetings and discussions about that — we want to encourage people to participate. We’re going to organize some of those throughout the 10 counties.”

But the plan is anything but concrete. While Skipper said a part of the plan is being implemented every day, it will be a while before completion of larger goals.

“It’s debatable how quickly we can turn this around as we lack funding,” said Skipper.

“It’ll be done in pieces, the funding issues will be major that we’ll have to address,” said Cole. “We’re at least, probably, 2 to 3 years away from major new things. But we already have a step with the Music City Star and then there will be planning, actual work underway even though construction hasn’t started.”

The next big date for the RTP is July 21, when an MPO board meeting will endorse a preferred investment strategy and formally draft the Plan. On Oct. 20, the MPO will formally adopt the 2035 Regional Transit Plan at another board meeting. 

Multiple speakers at the summit referenced the unity shown by Middle Tennessee persevering through the flood as an example for how to approach the issue of public transit. Pieces of frayed rope were given out with programs to symbolize the strength of Middle Tennesseans when they work together.

But reality will prove harder than metaphor when funding solutions are needed.

“I think the most important part is to get the vision, and then people can talk about the hard choices we have to make [funding]” said Cole.

10 Comments on this post:

By: MusicCity615 on 5/27/10 at 10:51

Excellent. I am glad we are taking strides to improve our mass transit. Nashville can certainly be like Portland, Charlotte, Austin, Salt Lake City, etc. if we stick with this plan and we maintain a future outlook.

We need more buses, but most importantly we need lightrail. We can't just add more buses, buses get stuck in traffic, pollute the atmosphere, and are very imcompetent on time management. Long lines of people wait for a bus, then it takes several minutes for everyone to swipe their cards. With light rail, you have already inserted your card (or do so on the train), and there are committed lines just for the rail cars so there is no traffic like with buses.

We need a commuter route to the outer counties. First- we need lightrail.

By: JeffF on 5/27/10 at 12:17

How would you serve the Nashville region with rail? The big problem is that most work places and homes are not in downtown, but rail fans typically want trains to go to downtown and back. Rail does a crappy job serving the needs of those people wanting to go from home to work without taking an hour long detour to downtown. It also is a no go for the surrounding town where workers are going to places not named downtown.

The problem with the investment in light rail is that once it is installed, it cannot be rerouted. Buses, can be moved on a whim when demand is followed. Of course Nashville screwed even that up by creating a hub for buses in downtown and make an overwhelming majority of bus lines terminate there. The reason recently implemented systems were analyzed was simple, there is no proof of failure, just hope. Having evidence from mature light rail system presented would make it harder for rail fanboys to get their toy.

Tell me, how do trains alleviate traffic on OHB for people traveling from Antioch to Brentwood? From Murfreesboro to Cool Springs? How about Hendersonville to the airport? Trains only are planned to get the minority of people going to downtown.

By: house_of_pain on 5/27/10 at 1:05

Light rail would need to be set up so as not to cross any roads at ground level. Otherwise, it would create more traffic snarls for those who can't(or don't want to) use mass transit. Good luck finding any new sources of dedicated funding at this point.

By: dangerlover on 5/27/10 at 2:36

For the record, Charlotte's light rail system is subsidized at a rate of ~$20/rider. I'm pretty sure most light rail systems end up sucking money.

By: MusicCity615 on 5/27/10 at 11:05

wow jeff I think you just proved my point. The fact that rail lines are permanent, it gives developers REASONS to develop there!!!

40,000 people work downtown and it's growing (check out Loews moving their corporate office to Fifth Third).

I really do not want to go into all the reasons why Lightrail should be implemented.. you will never change your mind. Besides, I said lightrail WITH more buses.

BUILD LIGHT RAIL!! Add more Buses!!

By: idgaf on 5/28/10 at 1:53

Think about the name for a moment.


In order for it to be viable to have to have a central location where the MASSES want to get to and we don't have that.

Realitively speaking we have a small downtown where a small percentage of even county people want to get to nevermind those from Lebanon , Clarksville and Gallitin.

I would have a really tough time voting for anyone that was in favor of this enormose waste of taxpayers money. We can't even break even on the operational costs for the Star and the rail and right of way was there already and we didn't have to use iminant domain to confiscate peoples property which some will fight.

The "plan" is nothing more then politicians pandering to the people that don't think things through.

By: idgaf on 5/28/10 at 2:11

If I lived in Lebanon, Clarksville or Gallitin the survey I would like to see is how many of our residents work in downtown Nashville and how many would take the limited service train if it was available so I could compare it to the cost to the city for our share.

With 200 -250 round trip passengers from Lebanon (remember they are not all from Lebanon) who would in their right mind want to spend more money (millions per mile) to increase service? As previously stated they can't even make operating expences with help from Mt Juliet and several stops in Davidson County. I would bet they don't even have 50 people from Lebanon and you would have less from Gallitin and Clarksville.

Think people. You had an excuse for your blindness with the Star but not if you repeat the same (worse) mistake and expect a different result.

By: MusicCity615 on 5/28/10 at 7:54


You take a moment to think. The rail from Lebanon to Nashville is only in service because the rail was already in place, NOT because of demand. Put up a rail to Williamson County or Murfreesboro.... The numbers would be completely different.

On the other hand, this vision is not just about commuter rail. It is more about mass transit WITHIN Davison County. We have 40,000 people working downtown and adding more. We have the Sommet Center bringing 15K+ people 41 times a year for the Predators games, plus any other Sommet events (SEC Championship). We have the Titans stadium bringing 70k 10 times a year, plus any other events (CMA Festival). We are building the Music City Center which will bring in coventions with people who will need mass transit.

We have 3 Major Universities in the downtown area whose students need mass transit. We have 5 hospitals in the downtown area whose workers need mass transit.

Mass transit is needed now, but also for the future. I hope we soon implement a transit system similar to Denver, Portland, Charlotte, etc.

Build Light Rail, add more buses!!

By: JeffF on 5/28/10 at 3:18

I am still looking for all that new development spurred by the Star...I will get back to you when and if I find it.

Development does follow transit, but only if the terminal point is important enough. 40,000 jobs sounds like a lot, but when divided by the 6 major directions those people come from one would have to assume that each and every person would have to ride every day to make billions of dollar in investments to get them just to downtown.

Why are you afraid of investing in transit for all of Nashville MC615? Doesn't each neighborhood and business district deserve a chance at mass transit? A smart government could invest in bus lines to create a network connecting all of Nashville together and spend a lot less than one new light rail line. Nashville would need multiple lines of trains just to feed the capital project hungry, power hungry downtown business overlords. That is billions of dollars that would still not serve the transportation needs of an overwhelming majority of middle Tennesseans or even Nashvillians. But of course they could always abandon all existing commercial development and flock to new stuff close to a pencil thin rail line couldn't they? No probably not because not everyone will be working in the downtown tourism industry or government.

Nashville leadership has chosen to invest in downtown tourism instead of real jobs. That lies in direct opposition to transit since tourism is so unimportant to the overall economy. Why build a train to something the locals do not participate or benefit from?

Better get that money before the facts come in about Denver or Portland or Charlotte. If you wait too long they will just look like the older, failed, expensive experiments in LA, San Diego, Miami, and St Louis. Just like minor league ball parks, non one mentions the places with a track record when trying to get money.

By: JeffF on 5/28/10 at 3:22

I will add, I think it is amusing that you bring up downtown events since those facilities were built with the promise that they would be a boon for downtown businesses. Are we seeing someone admit that there are people not using downtown hotels or even..gasp... locals attending those events?

Stop the downtown facility spending spree and then lets talk about trains for the rail fanboys. Nashville has wasted all its money on money losing downtown entertainments and now needs our neighbors to pick up the tab for something that really is important. "It is more about mass transit WITHIN Davison County"