On a nondescript Thursday morning, motorists stack their cars in four different directions at the intersection of Nolensville Road and Harding Place. As opposed to other cities, Nashville drivers sat quietly, solemnly resigned to waiting through numerous traffic lights. In 20 minutes, there are hardly any horns honked or birds flipped.
After all, the motorists were probably used to the backup, given that Nolensville and Harding is Nashville’s busiest intersection. According to Metro’s most recent count, nearly 73,000 motorists squeeze through it on a daily basis — that equals roughly a car for each seat at LP Field.
And when it comes to busy intersections, the Metro Department of Public Works and the Tennessee Department of Transportation keep a close eye on nuanced traffic data.
“The traffic volumes help us when we time our signals in intersections so we can adjust the green times for the different legs of the intersection that has the most volumes. ... We can test the green time down, and we can add turning movements,” Public Works engineer Mark Macy said. “And when there is a high pedestrian use, we can add that into the signal cycle, too.”
But when it comes to reducing traffic problems, that’s where things can get tricky.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has thrown his support behind bus rapid transit in an effort to improve and promote public transportation. The first proposed BRT East-West Corridor, however, covers territory from Five Points to Belle Meade — a route that doesn’t contain any of the top five busiest intersections in the city.
The proposed route’s westernmost point is near White Bridge Road and Harding Road — the fifth-busiest intersection based on numbers compiled by The City Paper — and it is expected to pass through West End Avenue and Murphy Road — the 16th-busiest intersection.
So, without a drastically different public transportation structure, there aren’t too many options that remain for busy roads.
Macy said one option could be the addition of interchanges and bridges to separate the flows of traffic.
“There’s so much volume that the next alternative to get traffic through these intersections would be grade separations. And those are really hard items to sell the general public — to take a lot of buildings down to put up interchanges,” Macy said.
“But really, when you’ve got that much traffic ... it’s really hard to [alleviate] that with just traffic signals. There’s not much you can do unless you can separate the traffic movements with a bridge.”
Murfreesboro is in the process of a hard sell. The Tennessee Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintaining state routes, plans to build a “diamond interchange” near downtown Murfreesboro, with construction slated to start in 2013.
But several business owners told The Daily News Journal that they feared the reworking of the intersection would reroute cars away from certain business — and the construction effects could be crippling.
There aren’t any discussions between TDOT and Metro about that option for any roadways in Nashville.
So, with no real solution in sight, here are the five busiest intersections in Nashville, based on traffic counts compiled by Metro and the state department of transportation:
Note: The last intersection study was conducted by Public Works in 2007. The City Paper used 2011 TDOT data to determine the approximate numbers.
Nolensville Road and Harding Place
For South Nashville commuters, the top spot on the list of Nashville’s busiest intersections should come as no surprise. The intersection of Harding Place and Nolensville Road is almost equidistant from both Interstate 65 and Interstate 24. Couple the location with the booming population in the southern part of the county, and a traffic snarl is a given.
According to 2011 data, more than 43,000 cars drove by a traffic assessment station between Harding and I-24 daily. Meanwhile, a station south of the intersection tallied 39,582 cars daily. And while it’s not much solace to frustrated drivers, both of those numbers are much lower when compared to the early 2000s. The Harding station counted a record high of 49,646 in 2001, while the Nolensville Road station peaked with more than 47,000 commuters in 2002.
Murfreesboro Road and Donelson Pike
The proximity to the airport, business parks and Antioch make this intersection a hassle. Last year, more than 33,000 cars per day passed through Murfreesboro Road toward the Genesco headquarters and the Dell office buildings. Meanwhile, 34,000 cars passed through a station located on Donelson Pike near the airport.
Franklin Pike and Old Hickory Boulevard
The intersection of Franklin Pike and Old Hickory Boulevard barely falls within the boundaries of Davidson County — and its traffic is boosted mostly by OHB, which is one of the most congested non-highway roads in the city. A whopping 52,821 cars per day were picked up by the TDOT station on OHB between Franklin Pike and I-65. That number is nearly double the amount of cars that enter the intersection from Franklin Pike.
Gallatin Pike North and Myatt Drive/Rivergate Parkway
This intersection near Rivergate Mall had more than 63,000 cars pass through it in 2007, according to the city’s most recent count of data. Coincidentally, that was the same year Vietnam Veterans Boulevard, a main artery serving Hendersonville and Gallatin, opened.
Last year’s state traffic data, however, shows a slight increase in cars on both Rivergate Parkway and Gallatin Pike. Rivergate Parkway averaged daily traffic of 34,000 cars, while Gallatin Pike North near the mall tallied nearly 40,000 cars each day in 2011.
White Bridge Road and Harding Road
The TDOT stations near White Bridge Road and Harding Road make it difficult to determine the exact traffic density data for 2011. But more than 43,000 daily cars passed through the closest station on West End, and 34,000 cars drove past one on White Bridge Road near Nashville State Community College.
While Metro intersection data wasn’t available for 2011, the most recent records from 2007 indicate that these other intersections were tops in the city: Nolensville Road and Old Hickory Boulevard; Nolensville Road and Thompson Lane; Lebanon Road and Old Hickory Boulevard; Gallatin Road and Old Hickory Boulevard; and White Bridge Road and Charlotte Pike.