It still lacks funding, and details are only conceptual, but Middle Tennessee took an early first step on Wednesday to move toward building a robust transit system in the region that includes rail.
The Regional Transportation Authority’s board of directors, which includes 28 Middle Tennessee mayors and appointees from Gov. Bill Haslam, voted unanimously Wednesday morning to adopt plans for a $5.97 billion regional transit system. The 25-year vision includes an assortment of transit projects both within Davidson County and connecting Nashville to outlying counties.
The plan, dubbed nMotion and more than 18 months in the making, was released formally to both the boards of RTA and the Metro Transit Authority last month. It then went through a 30-day public review period that MTA CEO Steve Bland told the board received nearly 1,000 responses from the public.
Addressing the challenges of such a massive endeavor, Bland told RTA board members that Middle Tennesseans relayed that they want “more of what we’re proposing, but they want it faster and they want it cheaper than we’re proposing.”
Wednesday’s vote does not bind the 10-county region to build nMotion’s transit recommendations. But it does mark a key endorsement from the region’s mayors, setting the course for Middle Tennessee leaders to begin the difficult process of finding ways to pay for and implement plans.
“Frankly, there’s no expectation that this will move at the same pace and the same rate throughout the region,” Bland said. “The issue is much more acute, the demands are much more easy to articulate in some areas versus others. But I would argue that every county and every city in our 10-county service area has a stake in the outcomes.”
Worsening traffic congestion, combined with an expected 1 million new people expected to move to the region by 2040, has made transit a top political issue in Middle Tennessee.
Prior to the board’s action, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry expressed concerns with the long timeframe of the nMotion plan. She said she would like to expedite projects that are currently outlined for six to 15 years from now to a shorter one- to five-year period.
“I would like to see it done much more quickly,” Barry said. “I think all of us hear from our constituents repeatedly that traffic is not getting any better, so making sure that transit options are accelerated is incredibly important for continued economic development for Nashville and our region.
“I would encourage us to put a shovel in the ground today,” she said.
Barry has said she plans to propose a transit funding mechanism plan by the end of this year that would coincide with the start of the Tennessee legislature’s next session.
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore said there’s “extreme urgency” in his Williamson County community to move forward on transit as well. He also added that the region must still look at other modes of transportation besides just mass transit.
“It’s about a lot of different options,” Moore said.
Moore later turned attention to the upcoming legislative session. He said it’s important that Middle Tennessee mayors make sure that state legislation does not “amputate” transit possibilities and instead supports multi-modal transit options.
The MTA board of directors, which includes only Nashville representatives, will considering adoption of the nMotion plan on Thursday.
The nMotion plan, which lays out three phases of implementation over 25 years, calls for commuter rail on a new Northwest Corridor from Nashville to Clarksville and enhanced services on the existing Music City Star rail line from Wilson to Davidson counties. It also outlines light rail lines on Gallatin Pike, Murfreesboro Pike toward the Nashville International Airport and Nolensville and Charlotte pikes.
Nashville’s Dickerson Pike is identified for a bus rapid transit line, while Broadway-West End Avenue as well as Hillsboro Pike and 21st Avenue are identified for a lighter version of bus rapid transit called “arterial BRT.”
There also are recommendations for “freeway BRT” and bus-on-shoulder service on Middle Tennessee interstates, a transit network serving the airport, new regional transit hubs and improvements to the city’s existing buses for more frequent, efficient and easier service.
In addition to the $5.97 million capital cost, the nMotion plan would require $338 million in additional annual operating costs.
RTA board members
Ashland City – Mayor Rick Johnson (Sandy Cannon)
Cheatham County – Mayor David McCullough (Paula Shaw)
Belle Meade – Mayor James Hunt
Davidson County/Metro Nashville – Mayor Megan BarryGoodlettsville – Mayor John Coombs (Tim Ellis & Rick Gregory)
Dickson City – Mayor Don Weiss, Jr. (Rydell Wesson)
Dickson County – Mayor Bob Rial
Clarksville – Mayor Kim McMillan (Charlie Gentry)
Montgomery County – Mayor Jim Durrett (Jeff Truitt)
Robertson County – Mayor Howard R. Bradley
Springfield – Mayor Billy Paul Carneal (Paul Nutting)
La Vergne – Mayor Dennis R. Waldron
Murfreesboro – Mayor Shane McFarland (Jim Kerr, Jr.)
Rutherford County – Mayor Ernest Burgess
Smyrna – Mayor Mary Esther Reed (Harry Gill)
Gallatin – Mayor Paige Brown
Hendersonville – Mayor Scott Foster (Fred Rogers)
Portland – Mayor Ken Wilber (Denise Geminden)
Sumner County – County Executive Anthony Holt (Kim Ark)
Westmoreland – Mayor Jerry Kirkman
White House – Mayor Michael Arnold (Gerald Herman)
Brentwood – Mayor Regina Smithson (Jill Burgin, Kirk Bednar)
Franklin – Mayor Ken Moore (Eric Stuckey)
Spring Hill – Mayor Rick Graham (Victor Lay)
Williamson County – Mayor Rogers Anderson (Joe Horne)
Lebanon – Mayor Philip Craighead (Jeff Baines)
Mt. Juliet – Mayor Ed Hagerty (Kenny Martin)
Wilson County – Mayor Randall Hutto (Tom Brashear)
Tennessee Department of Transportation
Commissioner John Schroer (Toks Omishakin & Liza Joffrion)
Cheatham County – Daryl Phillips
Davidson County – Ed Cole
Dickson County – Scott England
Montgomery County – Mike Evans
Rutherford County – Paula Mansfield
Sumner County – Lee Zoller
Williamson County – Kelly Dannenfelser
Wilson County – Ken Davis