With inevitable growth headed to the region in the next two decades, the Regional Transportation Authority met with Wilson County leaders Thursday to have a conversation about the region’s transportation future.
Officials from the RTA, Cumberland Region Tomorrow and the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee joined county and city officials, school leaders and several business representatives to gather feedback about potential new and better transit possibilities in the county.
Additionally, the group discussed how current operations, particularly the Music City Star, could benefit Wilson County and the region, and potential changes with services.
“We all know what’s happening in Nashville and so it’s important that we give our voice and take advantage of the things going on in Nashville,” said John McDearman, representing the Cumberland Region Tomorrow. “But also, Nashville take advantage of our unique county, as well.”
By 2040, the population of Wilson County is expected to top 232,000 people. The main focus of the meeting surrounded the Music City Star.
“We’re the lucky ones. It only takes us 30 minutes to get into [downtown Nashville]. It used to be 20 minutes, but if wake up and listen to what’s on the TV, Murfreesboro is about 70-80 minutes, if they’re lucky,” Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead said.
“The uniqueness of Wilson County is we have the interstate and the Music City Star. That Music City Star is one thing making an identity for our city.”
Craighead said when he became mayor in 2008, ridership for the Star was around 400 people daily. Now, that ridership is around 1,100-1,200 people.
“For folks in Middle Tennessee who say, ‘We’re in the Nashville area. We don’t do that transit thing – that’s for Boston, New York or Chicago,’ Wilson County is absolutely proving positive of the opposite,” said Steve Bland, RTA executive director.
“We are a commuter-oriented service. In Wilson County, that’s the Star and in all other counties, it’s commuter bus,” Bland said. “Star ridership started really slow, built up considerably. That ridership on the Star represents about half of total RTA ridership.”
“Wilson County, you are spoiled here,” said Felix Castrodad, RTA director of planning and grants. “You have a great mode of transportation in the Music City Star. Most other places in the region don’t have that opportunity. One of the things we’ve been hearing about the Star is the span of service. You all want more service and more often.”
Bland said of RTA’s main focus moving forward is improvements with the Music City Star.
“Over time, we’re going to have to replace the equipment we have on the Star, so we’d love to hear more about what we’d like to see on those vehicles –amenities you’d like available to you,” Bland said.
Bland and Craighead said when it comes to the Music City Star, a big component is providing a secondary mode of transportation after passengers get off the train.
“If you look at the people from Mt. Juliet, Lebanon and Wilson County who get off at Riverfront, about 50 percent are getting right on an RTA bus. It’s about making those transitions seamless and safe,” Bland said.
Craighead said the secondary transportation could be a major positive for the county’s booming industry, which is looking for people for fulfill positions.
“Not only do we want to focus on getting people to Nashville, but bringing people from Nashville here for jobs and other things,” Craighead said. “It would help our workforce if we had the additional services and were able to get those people here and get them to our jobs from the station.”
The group also discussed the potential future of the Star.
“We spent a couple of hours yesterday interviewing potential developers for a transit-oriented development around the Mt. Juliet station,” Bland said about Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty.
“The opportunity, particularly for Wilson County right now, is how do you as a city, county and region capitalize on that asset? It comes through design, land use plans and street layouts.
“The more we can make those things conducive to transit use, it allows us to increase service, make more improvements and increase our ridership.”
In addition to providing feedback from the meeting, citizens can follow the progress of the RTA plan and give feedback on its website, nmotion2015.org.
“Implementing a successful plan will be expensive, but it won’t be nearly as costly for the region as doing nothing,” Bland said.