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Transit advocates applaud Mayor's budget

new WeGo bus
Posted at 6:32 AM, May 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 09:13:57-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Last week Mayor Cooper unveiled his proposed budget, promising to fund a litany of transportation priorities. He says the budget will restore past funding that was cut from WeGo Public Transit, create 42 new positions under a new Department of Transportation and fund more bike lanes, traffic calming projects and 75 miles of sidewalks.

"In total dollars this will be the largest transportation funding that we have ever seen," he said.

He also promised a traffic management center to help with congestion, utilizing "smart signals" to help.

It's a bold plan, and one that transit advocates applaud.

"This is an ambitious budget for a city on the rise, ready to meet the demand for tomorrow and looking bright-eyed bushy tailed into the future. We’re not cowering any more," said Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee President and CEO Jessica Dauphin.

Her organization has been engaging in an email campaign to convince the Mayor's office that restoring funding for WeGo Public Transit should be a priority.

She said she heard his announcement with a sigh of relief.

"Especially coming off of a year with a crisis budget when everything shrunk in and we didn’t know where it was headed."

After several years of flat funding or funding cuts, the city's transit system was forced into several rounds of service cuts and changes.

"The Mayor's proposal to stabilize WeGo Public Transit's funding at pre-pandemic levels is a very strong step toward enhancing public transit in Nashville," said WeGo CEO Steve Bland in a statement after the Mayor's announcement.

A recent Vital Signs report from the Chamber of Commerce shows the top two transportation priorities for residents surveyed include more transit connections between Middle Tennessee communities and making it safer to walk in town.

And advocates point out the additional $25 million dollars for WeGo only restores funding, falling short of enhancing future service.

"There was an extra WeGo ask to get to that first tier of rolling out Better Bus Service enhancements," Dauphin explained, "we're talking higher frequency and longer service hours-type stuff that is in our city’s new transportation plan."

WeGo CEO Steve Bland says the MTA Board will discuss using federal relief funds to ‘jump start’ the Better Bus service expansion as early as October.

Some are calling for the additional funds to be included in the Metro budget.

Metro Council has until the end of June to vote on whether to approve the Mayor's budget.