By MATT BLOIS
At a series of open houses about a study investigating transportation improvements along the Interstate 65 corridor, Williamson County residents told a regional planning group they don’t like transportation studies.
“That’s unfortunate because we’re required to do the studies, and then once the studies are done, that’s how we move forward,” Deputy Director for the Greater Nashville Regional Council Michelle Lacewell said. “A lot of folks are saying, whoever’s in charge, get it done. Whatever that means, get it done.”
The Greater Nashville Regional Council is leading the transportation study, called the south corridor study. These types of studies make it easier for local governments to apply for federal grants that pay for transportation projects.
While they don’t like studies, people living on along the south corridor told planners they still want modern, impactful transportation improvements. However, there wasn’t much consensus about what kinds of improvements were necessary.
“For every day of the week there are opinions,” Lacewell said.
Increasing the enforcement of carpool lanes on the interstate came up often at open houses.
Lacewell said law enforcement agencies can’t agree on who should enforce carpool lane use, so it’s often not policed well. Using cameras to automatically ticket carpool lane rule breakers could help solve the problem, she said. But the state legislature would need to approve that kind of plan.
Many open house attendees also suggested putting passenger trains on the CSX train tracks running through the county. Regional planners have been talking to CSX about using existing train tracks, but the company is reluctant to place freight and commuter trains on the same rails for safety and capacity reasons.
Sean Pfalzer, a transportation planner with the GNRC, said there might be a way to add some kind of transit, such as passenger trains, next to existing rail lines.
“When you look at it just from a map point of view it’s ideal,” Pfalzer said. “From downtown Nashville it hits the communities … the employment centers, but obviously it’s a freight line.”
Other suggestions varied widely. Many — including the event’s moderator and self-described transit skeptic Dave Crouch — questioned whether Williamson County residents would deign to use buses. Others asked for improvements to existing bus service.
Planners didn’t mention anything about electric scooters, but the Brentwood City Commission banned them this week any, just in case.
People who attended the meetings also asked for bike paths, sidewalks and more lanes on the interstate. Of course, none of those options are free.
“This becomes a challenge when you ask taxpayers to fund improvements to the service and they say no. Then you go to a public meeting and they say, improve the transit service,” Lacewell said. “We kind of get stuck in a competition of opinions there.”
In May 2018, Davidson County voters rejected a $5.4 billion plan to improve transportation around Nashville.
Williamson County residents didn’t vote on that transportation plan, but Lacewell said she has heard from Williamson County residents concerned about the cost of transit at open houses.
While transporting people without cars is expensive, she pointed out that infrastructure for cars is also expensive.
“We hear this a lot in meetings where people will say … why can’t the bus fare pay for the bus,” she said. “That’s not how it works … Our user fees and gas taxes don’t fully pay for the maintenance and improvements to our roadways.”
Basically, traffic isn’t going to get better for free not matter what option planners recommend.
However, Lacewell didn’t want to linger on the cost of improving transportation. She said arguing about the costs of the Nashville referendum prevented planners from explaining why it was important to invest in transportation infrastructure to keep up with the city’s growth.
She also said the Nashville plan failed because it didn’t have enough of a regional perspective.
These transit proposals could eventually go before voters in Williamson County and surrounding counties, and planners don’t want to make the same mistake again.
“That’s why we’re doing this, so we have another program of projects to tie into the existing plans out there. To go to more voters over time and say let’s do this from a regional perspective,” Lacewell said. “It’s possible. What’s it going to look like when we get to that point? I can’t tell you because we’re still in this process … But the only way to get it done is regionally.”