One takeaway I had during the Amp debate: A great deal of Nashvillians clamor over light rail.
As Nashville’s transit conversation has morphed from wrangling over that specific project to a broader discussion of what service is needed in the region, there’s an undeniable fixation around light rail.
In their newest report released Tuesday, transit officials in Middle Tennessee have identified a few corridors for possible light-rail service in the region.
There are the logical routes along the interstates where traffic counts are currently swelling at all-time highs: Interstate 65 south to Franklin and Interstate 24 southeast to Murfreesboro.The new report put out by MTA highlights those two corridors. The report also points to potentially running light-rail service from Gallatin to downtown Nashville.
“These areas are the most densely populated and fast growing within the region and have well-established patterns of cross-county travel. Each of these would be long light-rail lines that would serve Middle Tennessee counties as well as trips within Davidson County,” according to the report.
At the moment, this is all exploratory. As part of its yearlong regional study, MTA is seeking public comment on what course of action to take in the future – primarily in order to avoid the type of backlash that ensued with the Amp, when stakeholders argued the project was thrust on them without their input. Previous reports by the MTA found existing transit offerings are inadequate for a city our size.
As we’ve previously reported, Nashville’s growing population has meant a surge in vehicles on the interstates. And even as more people flock to live in Nashville’s urban core, rising rent and housing costs stand to push lower-to-middle income workers further away from urban and Midtown job centers, a trend that would only exacerbate Nashville’s growing traffic.
For businesses and employees, that means valuable time lost sitting in traffic. But congestion also brings with it considerable costs to the region’s economy. It’s also a knock against Nashville in terms of competing with peer cities for new talent and businesses. As such, transit has emerged as an alternative to moving more people throughout the region.
With regards to light rail, the latest reports states: “As MTA and RTA consider premium transit services such as light rail, implementation should be focused on corridors where significant changes are desire or planned. For example, the Gallatin corridor has a great deal of older, suburban development that may be ripe for redevelopment as Nashville and the Middle Tennessee region grow.”
MTA also notes there’s the “potential for shorter lines within Davidson County,” including Nolensville Pike and Charlotte Pike.
“Charlotte Pike includes a mix of old and new development, but has constraints in the right-of-way beyond White Bridge Road,” the report says of Charlotte Pike. “South of I-40, Nolensville Pike is generally wide, which could present opportunities for the dedicated right-of-way preferred for light-rail lines.”
Here’s the rub: Light rail often costs more than $100 million per mile, according to the MTA report. That would make any potential service from Franklin to Nashville, for example, dwarf the cost of the $174 million Amp bus rapid-transit line. Additionally, there’s the issue of right-of-way availability – what the MTA report considers “one of the major challenges” in developing light rail (LRT).
“The development of LRT requires an exclusive right-of-way or exclusive light rail lanes on arterial streets, which often requires converting lanes from automobile to transit use.”
A few weeks back, I told you about dedicated lanes for express bus service on the highways– which is a much cheaper alternative to light rail. The advantages of light rail, however, are the speed of the service and the ability to move more people.
“[Light rail] is typically faster, more convenient, more comfortable and more attractive than bus service,” according to the MTA report. As such, that means light rail tends to have significantly higher ridership. If the demand for service is big enough, that means operating costs per rider are less than a bus rapid-transit service.
“Although it is more expensive to implement a light rail system than a bus rapid-transit (BRT) system, when ridership demand is high enough, the per capita operating costs are lower because each [light rail] vehicle can accommodate more passengers.”
Alongside the study on light rail, the MTA released a series of new reports Tuesday. You can find them in full here.