By CHARLES W. BONE
When you hear people in the Nashville region say, "We don't want to be another Atlanta," you can be sure they are talking about traffic.
You don't have to drive 5 minutes in Atlanta (or Los Angeles or Detroit or most any large U.S. city these days, for that matter) to see what the words "congestion" and "gridlock" are all about.
Bumper-to-bumper vehicles covering miles of pavement, turning streets and highways into rush-hour parking lots.
The good news for Middle Tennessee is that we don't have to have that kind of future. Even with our regional population of over 1 million, we can make a different choice. Good leadership and smart thinking can give us a different future.
Three recent developments make it so:
• Mayor Karl Dean in Nashville, Mayor Jo Ann Graves in Gallatin and their fellow mayors and county executives in the region have formed the Middle Tennessee Mayors Caucus to work in collaboration on the transportation needs we will face over the next 25 years. The mayors are committed to cooperating, not competing, in making policy choices that make sense for our growing region.
• State legislation will let cities and counties determine how best to pay for the local matching portion of transportation infrastructure improvements over the long term. Nobody is proposing expensive subway systems, but the transit solutions that do make sense — like bus and rail — will still cost serious money. While most of that should come from the federal transportation budget, our cities, towns and counties will need the wherewithal to put up the local portion that will be required.
• A companion group, the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, is organizing to create greater public awareness of the need for responsible improvements. Vanderbilt University, the city's largest private employer, has provided the lead financial commitment for the alliance.
Dedicated funding must be found.
Without better ways for Middle Tennesseans to get to work, home and school, our communities will be grossly limited in creating jobs for the future.
Today it's not unusual for a resident of Murfreesboro to work in Nashville, or a citizen of Lebanon to work in Gallatin or Franklin. Thousands make this kind of commute by car every weekday.
We have seen other metropolitan areas look ahead responsibly and make good choices to fund regional mass transit. Denver is one, and the simple fact is that our regional population will be as great as Denver's in 10 years. Charlotte and Austin also have systems in place.
If our region remains on its current track, the existing bus and van systems that serve people simply won't be enough to carry the load — and our region will choke on congestion.
The coins in the fare box won't be enough. We need to draw down serious federal dollars for the regional mass-transit system that we will need soon.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Charles W. Bone is the founding partner of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC law firm in Nashville and Hendersonville. He is chairman of the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee. He spoke a week ago to the Lebanon Breakfast Rotary on the topic about which he has written today's guest column.