The future of Nashville is being compared to big cities like Dallas, Boston and Denver, but our traffic situation is about 10 years behind our growth.
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry's plan will take a several years and billions of dollars, but she says a successful transit plan with a light rail will do the trick.
While most Nashvillians want something - anything - to help ease the transit system, some aren’t on board, but Barry says it’s happening.
"We’re moving forward with rail," Barry said.
Barry sat down with Channel 4's Melanie Layden in an exclusive one-on-one interview to talk about Nashville’s traffic and transit problems.
Barry's proposal is a multi-billion dollar plan aimed at fixing what’s wrong with the city’s traffic.
It includes several hundred miles of rapid buses, more pedestrian walkways, and of course, the much talked-about light rail system. The proposed light rail would run along four possible corridors, including Gallatin Pike, Murfreesboro Pike, Nolensville Pike and Charlotte Pike.
The new plan would also include a commuter rail that would run from Nashville to Clarksville, as well as buses that commute from Smyrna and Dickson, but all that comes at a hefty cost.
"Everybody wants rail, everybody wants to get on rail. There’s a $6 billion plan, but our most immediate need is funding," Barry said.
That’s where Gov. Bill Haslam’s Improve Act comes into play.
You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about gas tax lately. If approved, you’ll be charged 6 cents more per gallon in tax at the pump. You’re currently paying a 21 cent per gallon tax and that hasn’t been raised since 1989.
Those pennies add up and will go straight toward a fund to begin construction on state roads that will in turn allow city leaders to begin building a light rail. That funding will also go towards the state’s backlog in road and bridge projects, and yes, that includes Interstate 440.
Surprisingly, two-thirds of Nashvillians say they would be willing to pay more in taxes if it meant improving public transportation.
But the big elephant in the room is what’s going to happen to Nashville's bus system now. What is it about the current situation that’s just not working?
"What I hear the most complaints about from a bus rider perspective is that they don’t have enough frequency and the hours aren’t long enough," Barry said.
Channel 4 took that question to the streets and heard the same thing from many people who ride the bus every day.
"It doesn't work 24/7," said MTA bus rider Steven Smith. "You gotta realize ... in major cities, people don’t drive, they ride the bus. Nashville’s not like that, when they shut off at 11 and don’t start back up until maybe 4."
"I think, at the end of the day, a successful city has lots of ways to get around, not just one," Barry said.
Since this brand new transit plan is about 25 years away, most are wondering if there's anything being done to improve our traffic situation right now and not decades from now.
"Yes, we're already started. We’ve already synced 500-plus lights, and we’re already hearing from commuters, and you see that green all the way, and you’re just like yes," Barry said.
Barry said things like that are going to make a difference in commute times during the morning and evening rush hour. The biggest complaint from people who drive their own cars to work is how long it takes them to get there.
"If you’ve ever been in Nashville and used to a 15-minute commute time and you see that inch up, it's problematic because it takes time away from family and friends. So, I think as we look at reducing commute time, syncing traffic lights, low-hanging fruit, to impact those commute times," Barry said.
The mayor said she knows people are sitting in a lot of traffic and they want to see a solution. But until the ground breaks on the construction of that transit plan, Nashville will just continue to grow and thrive, and that, she says, is a really good thing.
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