With the population growth Nashville is experiencing, sitting in traffic is becoming a fact of life. The public conversation on transit was jump-started in recent years by the proposed AMP, a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that would run up and down the central artery of the city in a dedicated lane. Though the AMP failed to gain needed supporters, it put transit on the agenda, and helped convince a skeptical public that we were going to have to deal with this issue. There is now widespread agreement that we need more public transportation, more often, to more places, with faster and more direct service. Today’s question: do we dare to go all the way with this?
Assuming, as projected, one million more people are coming to the region, and assuming development plans will take place as outlined in the Metropolitan Planning Commission’s NashvilleNext plan adopted last year, the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) have come up with three scenarios of transit investment and improvement, with the ultimate recommendation likely to be a mix of these. The task at hand is deciding on the best mix of transit solutions; detailed funding discussions will follow later. Price tag estimates vary widely, from $800 million to $5.4 billion in capital expenditures.
“If we are going to pay anything, we should pay enough to have an impact,” says Steve Bland, CEO of the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority. “The region will change over the next 25 years. Are we going to wake up in 25 years and say, ‘What have we let happen?’”
While Bland is quick to say he will adopt whatever plan the public chooses, he also gives a nod to the most comprehensive improvement plan. “There are some really interesting choices for 62 cents per person per day,’” he says.
These investments will only improve mobility if zoning, density, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and residential and commercial development are coordinated with transit plans. Denver, Portland and Charlotte can serve as models for Nashville, Bland says.
MTA is collecting opinions from the public before final recommendations are made, which could be complete as soon as this summer.
#1 Transit Mania – the highest level of improvements, projected to increase regional ridership 500 to 600 percent in part by making transit so fast, frequent and reliable that commuters prefer riding over driving.
- Light Rail – possibly along Charlotte Avenue, Nolensville Pike, Murfreesboro Road and Gallatin Pike, and Northwest Corridor Commuter Rail for LRT-like service within Nashville.
- Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) serving Dickerson, West End and Hillsboro.
- Rapid Bus for 9 Nashville corridors and 3 regional corridors.
- Freeway Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for Franklin, Murfreesboro, Gallatin commuters (I-24S, I-65N, I-65S).
- Express Bus on shoulder – I-40W, I-65N, I-24W.
- Commuter Rail serving Clarksville, plus improvements to Music City Star.
- Urban streetcar serving West End Avenue and Germantown.
- Cross-town buses, 11 new routes.
- Express Bus – Murfreesboro-Cool Springs.
- Regional Rapid Transit – Gallatin-Gallatin LRT and Nolensville-Nolensville LRT (light rail to the city line, then connect to bus lines to go into Gallatin and Nolensville); Murfreesboro-Nashville BRT
- Expanding service in Clarksville, Franklin, Murfreesboro, and adding Spring Hill, Lebanon, La Vergne, Smyrna, Gallatin, Hendersonville, Springfield and Dickson.
Cost: $5.4 billion over 25 years, plus more than $310 million in annual operating expenses, more than three times the current MTA and RTA annual budget. Cost per capita per day for capital and operations (using population growth assumptions): 62 cents. Will require additional funding sources.
#2 – Bus Bonanza – Expand bus service only.
- BRT on West End, Charlotte, Dickerson, Gallatin, Nolensville and Murfreesboro Roads.
- Rapid Bus (frequent service, few stops, maybe traffic signal priority) to East Nashville, Hillsboro, Metro Center, 12th Avenue South, Clarksville Pike, and crosstown routes on Edgehill and Jefferson.
- 11 new crosstown buses with many local stops.
- Freeway BRT on I-65 to Gallatin and Franklin, and I-24 serving Murfreesboro (on dedicated lanes – the bus can go 65 to 70 mph even if traffic is slow).
- Regional Rapid Transit serving Gallatin-Gallatin LRT, Nolensville-Nolensville LRT, Murfreesboro-Nashville. (see this listed above)
- Express Bus on shoulder on I-40W, I-65N, and I-24W (can go 15 mph faster than the traffic, assumes low use of break-down lane by cars and trucks).
- Expanded local service to Clarksville, Franklin/Cool Springs, Murfreesboro/Southeast Corridor, Northeast Corridor.
- Improvements to Music City Star, but no additional light rail or commuter rail and no urban street car.
Cost: $2.4 billion over 25 years to build. $206.5 million annual operating cost, more than double the current budget. Cost per capita cost per day to cover capital and operations (using population growth assumptions): 30 cents. Could attract twice as many riders as there are today, 10 times as many as today along specific corridors. Will require new funding sources.
#3 – The Least We Can Do
- Rapid Bus on Charlotte, West End, Hillsboro, Dickerson, Gallatin, Nolensville and Murfreesboro Pikes,
- Express Bus, local bus improvements.
- Increase frequency and hours of service on “major local” bus service to Bordeaux, Opry Mills, 12 South, East Nashville and Jefferson St.
- New crosstown routes would center on Trinity, Woodmont, Edgehill, Opry Mills and Bell Road.
- Music City Star improvements, but no new rail options.
This scenario offers more service and more frequency than currently available, but would not entice many drivers to take transit. “This is not a city or regional game-changer,” says Bland.
Cost: $800 million over 25 years. $129.4 million annual operating cost. Cost per capita to cover capital and operations: 19 cents per person per day, only one cent more than current expense. Increased tax base from the growing population is expected to cover this level of investment.
With any of the plans, Nashville will be gaining streamlined downtown service, mobile ticketing, smarter technology and longer service hours.
MTA has asked for public comment. Click here to give your opinion.