Meaningful transit solutions in Middle Tennessee are going to require more than just talk from major business leaders.
That’s been Jackie Millet’s experience, at least.
The mayor of Lone Tree, Colorado, spoke at length about her city’s efforts to invest in transit, specifically light rail, at Williamson County’s annual transportation summit on Thursday.
The summit focused on Lone Tree, viewed as a “peer community” to Williamson County, and the ongoing Southern Corridor Study headed by the Greater Nashville Regional Council, WeGo Public Transit and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Buy-in from private sector
A city of just 15,000, Lone Tree first invested in transit after its residents voted in 2003 to join a larger regional transportation district in the Denver area. That partnership, along with tax increases, led to the construction of two light rail stations in the city.
The emphasis on transit, coupled with strategic planning, paved the way for private investment to flock to the affluent suburb, Millet said. It included a massive annexation of land into the city limits to drive future growth and eventually increase its population to 40,000 or 50,000 and thousands of new jobs over the next two decades.
“The three things I think made a difference were strategic planning for development, transportation investments, and those two really led to strong economic development in the city over the last decade,” she said.
The businesses followed, such as Charles Schwab, which employs around 4,500 in Lone Tree, and Kaiser Permanente.
But when the city wanted to add three more light rail stations along its busiest corridors a few years ago, its leaders knew it would require some convincing.
“To complete our line, we showed up with $25 million in cash,” Millet said. More than half of that came from the private sector.
The local investment helped the city obtain a federal grant to finish its light rail system.
Millet challenged Williamson County’s business community to contribute “not just your voice, but some financial resources” to help battle issues stemming from growth, such as transportation.
“When the private sector shows up with money, for some reason, the federal government pays a little more attention than when local governments show up with dollars,” she said.
Southern Corridor Study
The study is meant to complement the previous I-65 Multimodal Corridor Study, which identified problems and possible solutions along Tennessee’s stretch of Interstate 65.
It will hone in on three routes: I-65 in Davidson, Williamson and Maury counties, Franklin Pike and the CSX railway.
“We’re looking at buses, bus rapid transit, light rail and other options, but also new and emerging technologies that can be utilized in the corridor,” Doug Delaney, senior supervising planner with consulting firm WSP, said at a community meeting last month for local residents to learn more about the study.
Why look at the railroad line? That’s one component of the study, and whether it can be used for a possible commuter rail “that could work in tandem with the freight that’s already going on,” Delaney said.
Delaney said he wants people to understand that future growth and development in Middle Tennessee is coming, regardless of whether transportation solutions are planned.
The study comes more than a year after Davidson County voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed $5.4 billion transit plan. But tackling transportation issues with a regional approach could make solutions more palatable for residents, especially those in surrounding counties who commute to Nashville, Delaney said.
“One of the issues people keep talking about is that (the transit plan) was just focused on Davidson County,” he said.
“I think studies like this can help people understand and visualize how a large potential system of transit and new technologies can help people move through Middle Tennessee.”
The study’s findings will be used to create a series of short-term, mid-term and long-term recommendations for transportation and transit in cities between Nashville and Columbia.
Those recommendations should be released this fall.
Reach Elaina Sauber at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-571-1172 and on Twitter @ElainaSauber.