Less than a year ago, Middle Tennesseans had little choice but to complain about their traffic woes. And they had time to do it, too: ThinkTennessee recently reported that Nashville drivers spend nearly a full work week (33.6 hours) sitting in traffic a year, losing an average of $1,308 each year to traffic-related costs.
Since then, many thoughtful steps have been taken in order to help us develop an efficient transit system in the future, which can provide relief for those who will use alternative forms of transportation and those who continue to drive.
First, there came a regional plan. The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) approved in September the nMotion plan, a 25-year strategic plan for expanded travel options throughout the region, a massive culmination of technical studies, market analyses, system assessments, peer city reviews and public input from across the 10-county region.
How this plan gets funded is still a question, but thanks to visionary leadership by many, more options are now available. Tennessee law now enables us to use public-private partnerships (P-3's), a financing tool that allows infrastructure to be built more expeditiously.
The new IMPROVE ACT's option to hold a local referendum to fund transit paves a clear path to providing funded transit in our choked urban areas. Nashville Mayor Megan Berry made it clear in her 2017-18 budget address that Nashville would be aggressively pursuing improving its transit system.
This is great news for everybody who travels to Nashville and struggles with traffic when they arrive. But it's only the start. Those living in the most populous counties near Davidson County need to count the number of people moving in next door, the time it already takes to get across town or to complete a commute. They, too, need to think about what the future will look like and get serious about relieving traffic congestion with a better-funded transit system.
The Greater Nashville Chamber's Leadership Mission returned to Denver this May. A panel of mayors from across the region shared the impact the light rail has had on each of their cities. Without exception, the ability to move people across the region via transit has generated economic benefit. In depressed urban areas, there was as much as $4 of new private investment for every one dollar in public money spent. A wealthy suburb spoke about being able to import workers without having to pay wage premiums. Seasoned Denver leaders said Nashville reminds them of the region they once were. But Denver can barely remember those days, as they are firmly focused on their future, just as we must be, with 80-100 people moving to the region daily.
The Regional Transportation Authority of Middle Tennessee will hold a series of informational meetings in each of its counties to update citizens on the nMotion strategic plan and what the "next steps" could mean to them. The first of these informational sessions will take place for Wilson County at 11:30 a.m., Thursday, June 8, at the Lebanon Golf & Country Club. Lose & Associates and Hamilton Springs will provide lunch. Wilson County citizens should pre-register for this space-limited event by visiting goo.gl/o7iWzb.
Steve Bland is chief executive officer of Nashville's Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Regional Transportation Authority of Middle Tennessee.