Chamber aims for bold transit vision

Nashville Post
J.R. Lind

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce group charged with examining the future of transportation in Middle Tennessee says the only solution to increasing transit woes is the boldest one.

After a yearlong study, Moving Forward, a group of civic and business leaders from across the region, said that the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Regional Transit Authority should adopt the farthest-reaching — and most expensive — proposal that came out of the nMotion study, a $5.4 billion plan that incorporates bus rapid transit, light rail and street cars connecting not just Davidson County’s neighborhoods, but also its suburbs to the northwest, northeast, west, south and southeast.

In fact, Avenue Bank Executive Vice President Pete Wooten, the vice chairman of Moving Forward’s coordinating committee, said that plan should only be a jumping off point for the next quarter-century of transit planning in the region.

Adopting the multibillion-dollar proposal was the first of a list of 10 recommendations issued in the Moving Forward report, which also included:

• Designing high-capacity transit — most likely rail — between Nashville and Clarksville, Franklin and Spring Hill, Gallatin, Lebanon and Murfreesboro
• Urging Metro Mayor Megan Barry to develop a plan for downtown access across all modes of transit by the end of this year
• Recommending agencies giving priority for transit projects to communities with a planning focus on density and with strong public support
• having MTA include a connection to Nashville International Airport on the light rail line planned for Murfreesboro Road
• Working with officials from across the region to move the CSX Radnor Rail Yard from its current landlocked location on Interstate 65 to an outlying community
• Requesting the state develop, fund and staff the Office of Public-Private Partnerships within a year
• Recommending public discussion of transit planning in each Nashville-area county twice annually.
• Having the Metropolitan Planning Organization quantify the investments needed to implement intelligent transportation systems in each jurisdiction
• Recommending that the MTA and RTA report include reference to how to integrate self driving cars into the wider system

Moving Forward also set annual goals for each of the next five years. By the end of this year, it recommends adopting the plan. Next year will focus on identifying state and federal funding sources. By 2018, it is calling for at least 30,000 conversations about the transit plan be completed. By 2019, the group calls for the identification and implementation of a dedicated local funding source with groundbreaking on the first major transit project by 2020. (The full report is here.)

With the regional population expected to grow by 1 million over the next 25 years and, of more immediate concern, the average commute time expected to more than double in the next decade, Bridgestone American CEO Gary Garfield said the city risks losing out on future economic development opportunities.

Mayor Megan Barry went a step further.

“If we don’t get a handle on our transportation issues, our growth may slow down significantly. It may also stop,” she said.