Haslam Calls For Local Transit Funding Option

Posted at 5:40 PM, Jan 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-18 20:06:58-05

If a proposed gas tax goes through as Governor Haslam announced Wednesday, a provision that is part of the plan would pave the way for counties to hold voter referendums on funding transit projects in their area.

It's a growing issue that affects just about everyone.

And with another 1 million people expected to move to the region between now and 2040, congestion is a problem that's only going to get worse.

"You need to plan on at least an hour and basically almost an hour and a half to get in from Murfreesboro," said Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess, who is thankful he only makes the trip to Nashville a few times a month, "it took me an hour 20 minutes today."

From leaders to citizens, most people agree on one thing:

"Fewer cars on the road is a good thing for Nashville," said Wilson County resident Cheryl Lewis, who rides the Music City Star every morning.

But agreements often diverge when you ask about paying for high-priced items like light and commuter rail. They are part of the NMotion regional plan, which outlines a $6 billion dollar, 25-year proposal.

"There is no free lunch in this world, everything has a price," said Moving Forward Coordinating Committee Chair Gary Garfield, "the area's growing like crazy and that's a good thing. The price we pay is congestion if we do nothing."

Wednesday city and county leaders from 10 Middle Tennessee counties came together for a transit update lead by Garfield. He underscored the need for funding, noting some federal funding will be available through 2020 with the Obama Administration's Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act. State funding has still not been secured.

And even together, they won't be enough. The Governor's new plan announced Wednesday would allow county voters to decide if and how to pay for transit soltions locally.

"Working together we can put the pieces of the puzzle together," said Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson, "you’ve got to have good roads and bridges and transit solutions to get to and from work and school."

Adding buses and bus routes can be a cheaper, quicker way to start tackling the transit issue. NMotion outlines bus-only lanes, bus rapid transit and bus shoulder access as options in some areas.

However, most regional leaders said buses can't solve everything.

"When a bus has to travel at the same speed as you do in your personal car, they're not getting here any quicker," Mayor Burgess said.

Mayor Burgess expressed distaste for raising property taxes, and suggested as an alternative an increase to existing sales or wheel taxes to raise local transit funds.

People like Music City Star rider Cheryl Lewis say a tax increase of some sort would be worth it. 

"It's the way to go, it doesn't matter what's going on the interstate system, it doesn't matter what's on HWY 70 the train goes through," she said.

But soon that decision could be up to you.