Middle Tennessee has limited choices for mass transit: light rail on existing train tracks or a monorail system. But public-private partnerships will be needed to make them work, state Sen. Bill Ketron said.
“We just need to be truthful about it, and let’s get on down the road. It’s either light rail with CSX, we bring pressure on CSX, political pressure to start using that rail, or we go with the monorail. That’s the only two options we have,” Ketron said Thursday after a Regional Transportation Authority meeting at the Chamber of Commerce.
Middle Tennessee’s 10-county population is projected to reach 3.1 million by 2040, an 80 percent increase, with most of that growth coming in the nine counties surrounding Davidson. Rutherford’s population is expected to hit 450,000 in that time.
Considering it already takes an hour and a half to drive 35 miles from Murfreesboro to Nashville at rush hour, many people believe it won’t take long before a drive to Chattanooga will be quicker.
Though the RTA sends buses into cities surrounding Nashville to provide mass transportation back and forth from the state capital, several people at Thursday’s meeting said they don’t ride those buses because they consider them inconvenient, slow and hard to access.
RTA is gathering information from people across Middle Tennessee in preparing recommendations for a long-term transportation plan expected to be presented in the spring, RTA planner Felix Castrodad said.
“Success will be very expensive. Failure, even more so,” he said.
Ketron, a Murfreesboro Republican who supports monorail construction despite a price tag in excess of $1.3 billion, said during the meeting public-private partnerships will be necessary to come up with funding because the state can’t continue taking on 100 percent of cost. He predicted the gas tax won’t be raised in 2016 to fund more road construction projects, though it could be done in 2017.
Afterward, he said Tennessee Department of Transportation officials told him no more right of way exists between Murfreesboro and Nashville to add lanes to Interstate 24, whether for express bus lanes or widening.
Ketron also predicted Middle Tennesseans will not board buses in great numbers to reach Nashville.
“I was in China last year, and people are not riding buses. They’ll get six people on a moped, two chickens and a goat. They won’t ride a bus,” he said.
With those limitations in mind, Ketron believes monorails can be built on interstate right of way, causing little impact because support piers are small and easily clearing structures such as overpasses. Such a system could be erected in two years and carry 55,000 people daily, he said.
The state would back the investment with its credit rating over 30 years, Ketron said, but private investors could be enlisted to pay for monorail operation. Ketron said he met recently with representatives of McGraw-Hill out of New York, the former book publisher now in financial markets, who are bringing together private-sector investors to get involved in this type of transportation.
Private companies would be enticed with the opportunity get a return on their investment through gate fees, advertisements, wine and cheese sales and even though contracting with Starbucks to sell coffee on board, he said.
In the meantime, hot lanes with a $35 charge could be set up, as is done in Miami, Fla., he said, but that would be a temporary solution.
“You need to be moving a lot of people,” Ketron noted.