MURFREESBORO — We should listen to Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess when he urges us to support the funding of mass transit.
He fears that traffic jams will get much worse in the fast-growing Nashville area unless we commit to more transportation funding that includes mass transit, such as people being able to commute to their jobs on faster-moving buses and trains.
The Nashville area is far behind the similar-sized Charlotte, N.C., when it comes to offering mass transit, Burgess told other Middle Tennessee mayors this past Tuesday at a Nashville Region’s Vital Signs 2015 meeting at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center to discuss issues that included transportation.
“We don’t have available services,” Burgess said at the event.
The mayor after the event was kind enough to talk to me more about mass transit at his office at the Rutherford County Courthouse in Murfreesboro.
“When we look at the data for the Nashville metropolitan area compared to the data for the Charlotte metropolitan area, both of which have a population of about 1.2 million, we find that the number of transit trips provided is almost three times as much in Charlotte as in our Nashville area,” Burgess said. “This seems to show that their system in Charlotte is reducing congestion from these people riding the transit system by a factor of three. It just sort of jumps out at you. We are way behind when you look at other similar-sized metropolitan areas.”
The mayor worries that people in the Nashville area will spend even more time commuting in the next 20 years when the population grows by more than one million if additional mass transit is not available. His Rutherford County is expected to add nearly 200,000 people to reach 489,827 by 2035, according to the Tennessee Data Center.
“We are far behind in the provision of transit services, which will relieve the serious problem of congestion and the amount of commute time that our citizens are experiencing,” Burgess said. “Imagine what it’s going to be like with almost twice as many people out there. Do we want to wait until there’s gridlock? Or should we start now to develop some alternative solutions?”
Whether the solution involves rapid buses with dedicated lanes or light rail, the people will have to commit to “some sort of reliable source of revenue,” Burgess said.
The mayor noted that transportation is one of the top three issues mentioned by residents who responded to a survey for the Nashville Region’s Vital Signs 2015 study.
“Sixty percent of the people said they would be willing to pay more for access to mass transit,” Burgess said.
Much of this issue will come down to people being willing to pay more, such as the estimated $1 billion-plus to build the monorail that state Sen. Bill Ketron has proposed in the median of Interstate 24.
Many folks, however, oppose the idea of raising gas taxes even to get roads widened, such as state Route 96 from Murfreesboro to Franklin.
Of course, people may end up paying much more in the future as the roads become more congested.
I recall how stressful it was to drive on the interstates in Chicago when my wife and I lived there from March 1993 through August 1995. To commute to her downtown job, my wife would buy a monthly ticket for about $65 to ride the Metra train that had multiple stops through our community on the far southwest side of the city. The train ticket was about the same price as paying a monthly fee to use a parking lot in the downtown area of Chicago.
Even though the train ride and parking costs were the same, the train was much cheaper when factoring the price of fuel, and repair bills for wear and tear on a car.
Riding the train also meant a break from the stress of driving in the interstate traffic jams. Those on the trains 20-plus years ago could relax and read a morning newspaper, magazine or work report. These days folks riding trains or buses can pull out their phones or tablets to check out the news, and send or view messages through email, Twitter, Facebook and other social media without violating the law for texting while driving.
Folks sometimes have to make an adjustment to riding trains or buses. My wife had never done that kind of commuting before when we moved to Chicago. Like most other drivers in our country, she loved having her own car and the freedom to drive wherever she wanted to go.
Of course, being stuck in a traffic jam is far worse while watching some drivers throw their cigarette butts and blow their smoke out the window or hearing drivers blare their horns for no particular reason or seeing aggressive drivers cut you off because it’s more important for them to get where they’re going; or spotting those drivers drifting into your lane while they’re busy texting or talking on their phone.
The roads in the Nashville area will only get worse as the population grows.
We should indeed listen to Mayor Burgess when he urges us to to support the funding of mass transit.