Train Changes Possible If Mt. Juliet Doesn't Pay Outstanding Operations Fees

MT. JULIET, Tenn. - A feud between the City and RTA officials has put the Music City Star in Mt. Juliet in jeopardy.

The fight is over money for the Music City Star. RTA board members said they're tired of the City of Mt. Juliet not paying its fair share, while city leaders say the payments are not required by law.

There's no question the Music City Star station is important to the City of Mt. Juliet. Commissioners are considering a $140,000, half-mile sidewalk just to get people there. That's part of the city's recent Transportation Plan, approved by Commissioners this week. 

Yet, a $30,000 discrepancy could change train service for the entire area.

On a regular basis, riders have said there's a good reason to take the Mid State's only commuter train.

"I hate traffic!" laughed rider Cheryl Lewis.

Lewis said she rides three or four days a week. She often gets on the Music City Star in her home town of Lebanon. But at least once a week she uses a different station.

"I will drive to the Mt. Juliet station so I can get home earlier because the first station leaving Nashville only goes to Mt. Juliet," she said. Lewis says the station has the best schedule of all the stops.

Records show the station in Mt. Juliet logged 42,579 rides in 2015 and it's growing fast, but many riders are worried about the future for their station.

"I just want some answers," said a Mt. Juliet woman addressing City Commissioners in September at a regularly scheduled meeting, "there's no chance of RTA dropping the service? You guys wouldn’t let that happen would you?"  

The RTA Board, which is over the Music City Star, is currently weighing different options after the City of Mt. Juliet skipped its $30,000 operations payment the last four years in a row.

The city has maintained its roughly $2,500 yearly dues without problem, according to RTA records.

"If anyone can find any documentation that shows we're not meeting our obligations as according to the law with contractor-signed documents, I would personally sponsor the legislation that sees this city pays every penny that's allegedly owed to the RTA," said Vice Mayor James Maness at the commissioners meeting. 

Other city leaders agreed, calling the missing payments 'optional.' 

"We put those monies toward the citizens of Mt. Juliet first, meaning road projects and things of that nature, before we give away a complimentary $30,000 a year for any other service," said City Manager Kenny Martin at the meeting.

Wilson County, the City of Lebanon and the Nashville Eastern Rail Road all maintain operations dues closer to $50,000 a year for the Music City Star.

Both Mt. Juliet City Manager Martin and Mayor Ed Hagerty declined interviews with NewsChannel 5 for this story and did not respond to additional emails.

Meanwhile, RTA calls the payments part of a good faith agreement - one they said all 21 other partner cities and groups pay for to maintain their trains and buses every year.

"I'm proud that my city does that, and it kind of frustrates me that there is this ordeal going on with the City of Mt. Juliet," said Lewis, who worries she'll have to start working from home some days if her regular plans to get home via the Mt. Juliet station are thwarted by this fight.

She and others have been left wondering if this spat will stop the Mt. Juliet train station in its tracks.

"It's really a no-win situation if service changes," she said.

If the city and the RTA Board can't come to an agreement, RTA said it has several possible options: start charging for parking in Mt. Juliet, increase ticket prices for Mt. Juliet riders, reduce the number of stops there or stop service to that station altogether.

To fully end service at the Mt. Juliet station, RTA would have to pay money back to the Federal Government. 

The Board was scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss how to move forward. 

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