Mayor John Cooper's new $1.5 billion transportation plan advances

READ FULL ARTICLE WRITTEN BY SANDY MAZZA FOR THE TENNESSEAN HERE

Mayor John Cooper is vetting a new countywide transit plan valued at more than $1.5 billion to upgrade bus routes and stations, bikeways, and traffic infrastructure through 2030. 

The preliminary Metro Nashville Transportation Plan comes two years after voters shot down a $9 billion proposal for light rail and rapid bus transit connected by a 1.8-mile tunnel. 

A final draft of the new plan is set to be presented to Metro Council later this year. 

The demand for more reliable and accessible public transit will likely continue to grow as the region's population swells. Middle Tennessee is expected to add 1.2 million new residents by 2045

"The cities in America that are going to emerge from COVID-19 most successfully are going to be the ones that continue to make progress. We've continued to make progress, as evidenced by the development of this plan," said Faye DiMassimo, the mayor's senior advisor for transportation and infrastructure. "We're very much in the draft stage and we'll be presenting this to the community before coming back to council by the end of the year."


This time, the plan doesn't hinge on a proposed sales tax increase. It relies on more than 75 highly tailored funding streams that include federal and state grants, tax revenues and private developer contributions. 

Sidewalks, pothole repairs, street resurfacing and traffic calming measures are prioritized. 

Mayor's office representatives are still in discussions with council members, regional transportation planners and community stakeholders about the details. 


They are weighing the creation of a Nashville Department of Transportation to oversee the project. 

"The plan itself will be a larger conversation about how this fits in with the overall community," DiMassimo said. "Across all of Metro, the priorities that really rose to the top are transit, sidewalks and state of good repair."


Bus rapid transit and new stations

New bus rapid transit lines would begin with a $418 million, 13-mile route from downtown to Hickory Holllow at Bell Road along Murfreesboro Pike, crossing the airport.

New bus stations and fast, frequent service would come with traffic management technologies and sidewalk improvements for pedestrians.  Eleven new transit centers are envisioned altogether, including one anchoring bus rapid transit on Clarksville Pike connecting North Nashville with West End and East Nashville via Trinity Lane. That would bring roughly $94 million in capital costs.  A Green Hills/Hillsboro center is also prioritized.  "Customers will see significant upgrades in amenities, including a climate controlled waiting area, fare product vending machines, and real-time digital travel information," the mayor's draft plan states. "The planned Neighborhood Transit Center at Clarksville Pike and 26th Avenue North will serve as a key station for Rapid Bus service in the Bordeaux-Clarksville Pike corridor, and a connection point to other WeGo Public Transit services." New crosstown bus routes and faster system-wide service are a cornerstone of the vision. Sixty-eight new bus shelters and 25 improved shelters are planned, at a cost of $9.3 million. "The impact of the Better Bus improvements is expanding the numbers of opportunities folks have to access things like jobs, education, etc. in a reasonable amount of time," the plan states. "The real economic return is not to MTA in the form of fare revenue, ridership or cost recovery; it is to the people who use it in the form of expanded economic opportunity." Sidewalks, streets and traffic A $400 million investment in new sidewalks, bridges and street repairs is anticipated throughout the county.  An investment of $75 million would be made to improve safety at high-traffic areas, and $35 million could fund about seven miles of new bikeways a year for five years. Another $15 million would be spent to improve traffic flow with signal sensors.  A long-anticipated connector between the east and west sections of North Nashville separated by the interstate is also planned, at a price of $175 million.  The Jefferson Street corridor in North Nashville declined after Interstate 40 divided it, cutting off access to once-thriving businesses.  "Concerted efforts by community organizations with support from local, state, and federal government officials, has helped to mitigate some of the impacts of the interstate highway," the plan states. "But significant barriers to economic development and community revitalization remain in the forms of aging, dilapidated infrastructure." The proposal also prioritizes strengthening infrastructure in areas hardest-hit by the tornadoes in March. The Martin Luther King-Charlotte Avenue corridor, fronting the State Capitol, would be the testing ground for improved traffic technologies.  The Gallatin Corridor is slated to also be a "living lab" for sustainability and technology enhancements like "smart signals" and solar-powered crosswalks. Metro transit operations have suffered major financial hits during the COVID-19 pandemic. But services have been reduced to avoid additional hardship.  "Transit benefited from opportunities for CARES Act funding and we're able to leverage that," DiMassimo said. "We're in a time of great change so we believe the right way to approach this is to advance projects from this plan with individual funding strategies like grants and so forth that are unique and well-suited to a particular project."

Sandy Mazza can be reached via email at smazza@tennessean.com, by calling 615-726-5962, or on Twitter @SandyMazza.l

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