Public transit expansion is necessary for the Middle Tennessee region’s continued prosperity, transportation advocates say.
Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin hosted a public meeting Thursday evening to encourage a conversation between residents and regional transportation about how transit will affect the future.
Sumner County is currently home to some 168,000, but that number could reach 250,000 by 2040, an increase of 50 percent. Almost 70 percent of the county’s residents work outside of the county, mostly to the south, according to Clay Haynes with Cumberland Region Tomorrow.
Similar trends across the region have grabbed the attention of leaders with transit becoming one of the hottest topics at political and other discussions addressing the region’s future sustainability.
“I can’t tell you how important this is for one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States that we plan for the growth we’re having,” Sumner County Executive Anthony Holt said. “We’re experiencing unparalleled prosperity right now. With people moving in it creates a huge challenge for this area because we can’t build our way as far as widening our interstates and our infrastructure. We’ve got to have smart transportation alternatives for the future.”
Bus or rail?
More than a decade ago, local leaders identified state Route 386 (Vietnam Veterans Parkway) as the main thoroughfare to accommodate public transit alternatives that could save residents time and money.
Bus or rail have been the two transportation options for Sumner, but continuing studies and discussions suggest a bus line might be the cheaper short-term alternative.
One possibility for Sumner and the region is a bus that travels on the shoulder of roads, offering travel time advantages for a relatively affordable capital investment, Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Steve Bland said.
“We’re in a very active conversation with (the Tennessee Department of Transportation) on how might we incorporate bus-on-shoulder in Middle Tennessee,” Bland said. “It’s been a great progress.”
Though often discussed, rail is not a front-runner. Although Nashville has an established railroad system, “an awful lot of freight” runs through the Nashville corridor, a main stop between Illinois and Florida. That can be viewed positively, Bland said.
“CSX is carrying a lot of freight that is taking trucks off the road that could further be delaying our commute and supporting an awful lot of jobs,” Bland said. “Short-term rail commute is really tough to do for that reason. Long term, they’re running into some of the same congestion issues that we are. Long term as a state, we need to look at how do we expand rail freight capacity and how might we accommodate commuter capacity.”