MURFREESBORO – Transportation funds should include money for mass transit projects for the Nashville area to compete with other regions for good jobs, Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess said.
“We’ve gotten behind the curve,” said the mayor, noting he’d like to see this area offer options such as light-rail and rapid buses with dedicated lanes that he’s seen while visiting Denver. “It’s just fantastic.”
If the Nashville area expects to grow by 1.3 million people in the next 20 years, mass transit must provide options other than to add to the rush-hour traffic jams on the interstates and highways, Burgess said.
The Nashville area faces global competition when considering fast-speed trains in Japan, France and other countries, Burgess said.
“We’re going to have to have some source of revenue to make these things happen, or it will never happen,” Burgess said. “It’s going to drive economic development.”
Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Michael Skipper agreed with Burgess, one of the MPO board members, when it comes to the need for dedicated funding for mass transit.
Nashville is one of the largest cities in the country without “a single penny for transit,” Skipper said.
“That will catch up to us,” Skipper said, “when all the interstates and streets are gridlocked, and there’s no other way to get around.”
The state can’t continue to double the size of the interstates in the Nashville area to accommodate the expected growth, Skipper added.
“That’s expensive to do,” Skipper said. “We are running out of room.”
Just like investors look to put their money into more than one stock, governments should look to diversify transportation funding on roads, bridges and mass transit because that will be more sustainable in the long-run, Skipper said.
Although neighbors or businesses may oppose dedicated lanes for rapid buses and other mass transit infrastructure, cities should still consider alternatives, Skipper said.
“I am frankly tired of not doing projects because there’s opposition,” Skipper said. “It’s disrespectful to the people who want to see improvements by telling them that the position of the opposition matters more. We just have to have better community conversations to figure out how to improve our infrastructure. We just have to do a better job of compromising. Doing nothing hurts everybody.”
The MPO executive director praised Murfreesboro for offering Rover buses for much of the city although not in the Joe B. Jackson Parkway area where Amazon and other industries offer jobs.
“The Rover is definitely part of the regional conversation,” Skipper said. “The Rover is probably doing the best they can with limited money.”
Rover buses operate with a $1.3 million budget with much of it funded through federal grants, but the city government is unable to send them down to Joe B. Jackson Parkway because of the time and space issues involved with the longer commute, Murfreesboro Transportation Director Dana Richardson said.
If the city were to provide service to the parkway, it would probably have to add an express bus, Richardson added.
In addition to light rail,fast-speed trains, rapid buses and other mass transit options, cities should include bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks and greenways to provide alternative ways for people to travel, Skipper added.
“We just need to design these road projects to support these other modes of transportation,” Skipper said.
Mayor Burgess noted that many millennials want to find places where they live close to work and can walk or ride a bike there instead of facing long commutes on the interstates.
“Nowadays, 30 miles could be an hour and half,” Burgess said. “That’s not acceptable.”