Transit: Metro Council members talk transit at CNAP meeting

It was just Sunday as traffic backed up on Bell Road. Just Sunday. No construction. No wreck.

It was just Sunday as traffic backed up on Bell Road. Just Sunday. No construction. No wreck.

Last week, the Crossings Nashville Action Partnership had a bit of a different format for its monthly meeting.

Meeting at the new Holiday Inn Express in Antioch, this meeting focused on four issues, transportation, gentrification, economic development, and crime. Antioch-area members of the Metro Council were invited to share their views on these critical issues.

Transportation
The first issue covered was transportation. A conversation moderated by Ben Freeland, owner of Freeland Chevrolet and other businesses in the Crossings area, featured Metro Council members Fabian Bedne, D-31; Jacobia Dowell, D-32 ; and Sam Coleman, D-33.

Council members Karen Johnson, D-29 and Tanaka Vercher, D-28, had other commitments and joined the conversation later in the evening.

“A key selling point is location,” Freeland said, adding that Antioch is only seven miles from downtown and the airport, and close to Brentwood and Rutherford County.

He noted that 150,000 cars travel I-24 every day.

“It’s our best asset but could be a liability,” Freeland said, adding that he meant, “Congestion and traffic and lack of mass transit options.”

In an AntiochTenn.com poll, 51.9 percent of respondents cited traffic and transportation as the number one priority for Mayor Megan Barry, far surpassing issues like crime, affordable housing, education, business development and jobs.

He asked Bedne, Dowell, and Coleman their views on transportation and mass transit, and specifically what they felt the council could do to help with area transportation issues.

We are really underserved in terms of public transportation,” Council Member Fabian Bednesaid. As an example, he noted some years back he received a call from Goodwill asking to extend a bus line all the way to Concord Road. It still hasn’t happened.

After joking about having an accent, Bedne said, “In Buenos Aries where I grew up, there are so many ways to move around city. Buses, subways, you name it.”

He added that his view is that Nashville needs a mixed system. He wants to “piggy back” on the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) bus system, but have that done by the private sector.

“We need a complete system that is more efficient,” he said.

He pointed out that popular ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft are already adding to the privatization of mass transit, but there are still issues with affordability.

“We need to find way to make it good for everybody,” he said.

Bedne admitted the main issue is budget.

“The MTA will come to the council if they want to expand, and they will ask for additional funds,” Bedne said. “They can ask for BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), and I hope they do.”

He noted that they approved a BRT light budget for Nolensville Road and Murfreesboro Road. The Murfreesboro Road Bus Rapid Transit is now operational, according to the MTA website.

“My idea is to support them if it comes to us” he said.

Jacobia Dowell came in with a different, more pragmatic view.

“I am a transit advocate,” she said adding that we need to market our area for regional transit. However, she cautions, there is an issue.

“Tennessee is a very conservative state. It is a pay as you go state,” she said. “If we are going to have a mass transit solution, I don’t think we can resolve it on a local level. We can’t fund it on property tax dollars. We’re going to need regional participation, and get the state involved.”

She pointed out that at one point the Metro Council made a proposal – The Amp. The state got involved and passed legislation that impacted local decision making for projects such as this.

But, she argued, it is about money.

“We can come up with all these ideas but at the end of the day we have to come up with the money,” she said. “Tennessee will not borrow for transportation.”

She also said we’re going to need regional counties to participate, come to the table and agree that we have an issue, need to come up with a solution, and have skin in the game.

“We need a long term funding budget at the federal level for transportation and infrastructure projects,” she said. “If feds not giving money, we’re not getting it locally. Right now, the fed government doesn’t have a whole lot of money.”

“We’ll have to solve transit issues locally and all of us have to realize realize we have to have a solution locally.”

Sam Coleman agreed with both Bedne and Dowell on their views of the transit issue. However he brought up an additional point.

“One of the main things is are we committed to another form of transportation?” he asked.  “Are we going to get out of our cars and get on something to ride?”

He said he thinks light rail and the surrounding counties chipping in are part of the solution, but he’s also looking to the leadership of the mayor on the issue.

“That’s a mayor issue, a Mayor Barry issue,” he said. “I’m going to wait for Mayor Barry to bring something to the council.”

He noted that peak traffic in the area is focused around certain times of the day, particularly mornings and evenings, and occasionally during the day itself.

He said Mayor Barry can bring something to the council and then he and other council members can go to the community groups such as CNAP to see if they are willing to support the financing and to make a commitment to “get out of the cars and catch a bus to where we have to go.”

More to come:
Look to Antiochtenn.com, the only media outlet attending the CNAP meeting, for more coverage on the meeting, including council member thoughts on the subjects of gentrification, crime, and economic development.

Those conversations will also include Council Members Karen Johnson and Tanaka Vercher.