As road projects linger across the county, population growth continues and state funding for transportation improvements stand still, representatives from transit organizations in the region explored alternative solutions to traffic problems found in “multi-modal” public transportation at a public meeting Thursday at Franklin City Hall.
Steve Bland, executive director of Regional Transportation Authority gave a presentation on the organization’s strategic plan, nMotion, which is currently being updated and asked for the approximately 100-member audience’s input.
“Everyone is an expert in transportation,” Bland said. “I don’t want anyone to say, ‘I didn’t know this was going on.’”
The public meeting drew leaders from the Williamson County delegation, including Reps. Glen Casada and Charles Sargent as well as Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson and Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, who both addressed the crowd about the issue.
The RTA strategic plan outlines current transit options and seeks to enhance and expand transportation opportunities across Middle Tennessee, including Williamson County partly in partnership with the Transportation Management Association (TMA) Group, which manages and operates Franklin Transit Authority located on Columbia Avenue.
Bland explained RTA – which services about 600,000 riders a year and contracts with Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) – seeks to provide more choices for transit, including bus, van, or park and ride programs, and more connections for those options throughout the county and region.
“Everything’s on the table, so think hard,” said Pat Emery, who serves on the board of directors of The TMA Group, welcoming the crowd in the city’s training room.
First, county resident Greg Young, who serves on the board of directors for Cumberland Region Tomorrow, emphasized that reliable transportation leads to economic success.
Moore agrees recently saying that “economic vitality depends on how we move people around.”
“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t talk about transportation,” Moore said.
“Williamson County is one of the fastest growing economies on earth,” Young said. “We want to make sure the economy stays strong, and we protect what we love, including our natural neighborhoods and rural areas.
“We also want to make sure that we can get from Point A to Point B to do our jobs.”
“Growth requires infrastructure,” he added.
He also reiterated current regional statics regarding population growth, which affects transportation and traffic.
By 2040, the 10-county region of Middle Tennessee will populate three million people, which is twice its current population. Meanwhile, Williamson County expects more than 500,000 people by 2040, and currently houses about 205,000 residents.
Also, currently about 62.9 percent of people in Williamson County commute to work outside of the county, while according to the recent Williamson, Inc. Trends Report 2015, more than 23,000 Davidson County residents drive to Williamson County for work.
Also by 2040, Young shared that jobs in Cool Springs are expected to increase by 69 percent.
Meanwhile, Bland emphasized the public’s desire for “convenience, dependability, frequency, and safety” in transit options.
Bland shared the ways that RTA could help relieve traffic congestion in communities such as adding express bus lanes, more park and ride lots and more bus routes in a effort to increase more choices and more connections for residents.
City transit current offerings
RTA currently offers options in Williamson County including an express bus service to Nashville with no stops in between – the 91X Express Bus, driving from Franklin to Nashville, and the 95 X Express Bus driving from Spring Hill to Nashville.
TMA already offers two park and ride lots (park a car and ride a bus lot) in Franklin and Spring Hill as a convenient way to catch the express buses. One park and ride lot, implemented last summer in partnership between Williamson Medical Center and the TMA Group, is located at Williamson Medical Center, 2072 Edward Curd Lane, while another park and ride lot is located at Church of the City at 4910 Main Street in Spring Hill.
Meanwhile, Franklin Transit Authority, located on Columbia Avenue and managed and operated by the TMA Group, offers three fixed bus routes, Transit On DemanD (TODD), which provides curb-to-curb pick-up by reservation, and vanpooling provided by VanStar. For more information on fixed routes or reserving a ride see, www.tmagroup.org. The group has already conducted its own multi-modal study of Cool Springs, which can also be found on its website.
Bland explained during his presentation “major issues” affecting transportation in the Middle Tennessee region including – limited service during a small number of work hours, transit that is fast but not fast enough and inconvenient locations of park and ride lots and route stops, which sometimes do not have access to sidewalks for easy access to transit.
Bland emphasized if basic safety criteria cannot be met, people will not use public transportation.
As a future option, Bland suggested a “bus on shoulder” program in highly congested corridors, which he said he has already approached the Tennessee Department of Transportation about the idea. Similar programs are already used in about 12 other states. As part of the concept, buses would operate in the shoulder of I-65, for example, during high traffic times, conducting stops, driving at slower speeds, then rejoining the road once traffic clears.
He also suggested adaptive signaling of traffic lights to keep traffic flowing at a more steady pace, such as on Murfreesboro Road.
On a larger scale, the greater Nashville area offers an additional option of a train, the Music City Star, which runs from Nashville to Lebanon with connecting bus stops along the way, some running every 15 minutes during the day. Bland hopes to expand the rail system to reach more areas, but also competes with freight tracks for infrastructure.
“Everybody loves a train,” Bland said.
Separately, in the recent TMA Group Cool Springs Multi-Modal study, the group offers high capacity transit as a long-term recommendation, which would follow the alignment of I-65. The construction of a light rail station in the Cool Springs Carothers area is also a recommendation in the study.
High costs for improvement
However, transit improvements would also come with a large price tag.
“Success will be very expensive, failure even more so,” Bland said.
Some audience members shared their reactions.
Audience member, Ramon Cisneros, said using a car is an ingrained behavior for many and suggested that marketing campaigns should be launched to introduce different ways of travel to help change behaviors of getting around.
Bland also pointed out that many people relocate to Williamson County from urban areas such as Chicago and are accustomed to public transportation and desire more options here.
Franklin Alderman Beverly Burger, of Ward 1, said that she supports more park and ride lots in Cool Springs, while another audience member pointed out that more drivers could use State Route 840 instead of I-65.
Meanwhile, some audience members said improving multi-modal transportation was beneficial but worried about the reality of funding at the state and local level.
Solutions to be found at the county level, Anderson says
At the meeting’s conclusion, Mayor Anderson said that Williamson County’s problems in transportation cannot be solved at the regional level.
“This is not a regional issue, this is a county issue,” Anderson said.
He then emphasized that county leadership, including the county’s six cities of Brentwood, Fairview, Franklin, Nolensville, Spring Hill and Thompson’s Station must come together.
Also after much community debate about the possibility of implementing a gas tax as a state-funding revenue solution, Anderson said he does not believe such a solution would pass in the legislature right now.
“You have to know what you are paying for,” he said. “Right now, I don’t think we know.”
He also said citizens need better education about transportation and emphasized the importance of finding solutions to get cars off the road.
“We are not doing a good job of educating,” Anderson said.
He then explained that during a recent mayoral presentation at Summit High School, he asked a classroom of students to raise their hands if they rode the school bus instead of driving a car to school.
“Out of a class of 80, four raised their hands,” Anderson said.
“I like my pick-up truck,” Anderson added. “Home and car ownership is a big thing [for my generation], but … .
“If we are going to provide these solutions, the six cities in Williamson County are going to have to educate, educate, educate.”