Nashville region must plan for future mobility needs

The Tennessean
Keith Simmons

Nashville is a 15-minute town. You can get anywhere in 15 minutes.

Nashville is not Atlanta.

“Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.” — Wayne Gretsky

Which of these statements is true? Not the first one. There are few routes for getting anywhere in Nashville that take only 15 minutes. It may have been a true statement five years ago, but it is not a true statement today.

Further, Nashville is not a 30-minute-commute town. Just ask the people who are stuck on any of our interstate corridors at either rush hour.

The second statement is not true either. We are Atlanta. The difference is only in the numbers. Atlanta has 4 million more people. If you add even a million people to the Middle Tennessee region, we become Atlanta, with all its traffic, congestion and sprawl.

Which brings me to the often-used Gretsky quote. If we have traffic problems today, what will we do if, as is predicted, an additional million people are added to Middle Tennessee in the next 20 years?

We have a problem today, one that people are now beginning to recognize, but we will have an unmanageable problem 10 or 20 years from now.

If we do not act now — that is, skate to where the puck is going to be — people are not going to flock to Nashville at the rate of a hundred per day, as is now the case; businesses are not going to relocate here, as is now the case; and we are not going to like living here very much.

We live in a wonderfully prosperous region that we all love, but we have our problems, chief among them being regional mobility. Notice I did not say “transit” or “mass transit.” I said “mobility.” We have to figure out how to get “there from here” in a reasonable period of time, with a minimum amount of frustration, with minimal adverse effects on the region we love.

We really cannot afford to wait to figure this out. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce recently completed its Leadership Study Mission to Salt Lake City.

The Salt Lake City region has a very functional, usable and utilized mobility system employing a variety of transportation choices. That region is no more progressive or prosperous than ours, but it has a great system for getting people around.

The difference is that the people of Utah started working on this in earnest 25 years ago.

Where would the Murfreesboro commute be today if we had started 25 years ago? How much less expensive would our problem be if it had been addressed 25 years ago? Will the people of our region be saying the same thing 25 years from now?

Finally, mobility in and around Middle Tennessee is not just a Davidson County problem. It is a regional problem that can only be addressed on a regional basis.

With that in mind, Cumberland Region Tomorrow, in collaboration with the Regional Transportation Authority, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Mayor’s Caucus of Middle Tennessee, the Transit Alliance, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Department of Transportation, will present its 2015 Power of Ten Regional Summit from 1-4:30 p.m. June 18 in the TPAC Polk Theater, addressing mobility options for Middle Tennessee.

The program is titled “Getting There from Here: More Transportation Choices and Connections for All of Us” and will feature both national and regional speakers. All are invited.

There is no charge to attend, and you can register by going to

We have to do this, and we must do it now.

Keith Simmons is vice chair of Cumberland Region Tomorrow. He served as Bass, Berry & Sims’ Managing Partner from 1995-2012.