Cooper says federal funding of BRT doubtful; new opposition forms

Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 10:05pm

As Mayor Karl Dean celebrates the completion of his signature project this weekend, doubts about his next one are surfacing.

Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper does not believe federal funding will be available for The Amp, Dean’s proposed bus rapid transit project that would run along the West End corridor. The project has already been a source of contention, with some residents, business owners and Metro Council members taking issue with the proposed route.

Members of an emerging group of opponents say Cooper shared his doubts with them during a recent meeting about the issue. Cooper spokeswoman Katie Hill confirmed his views to The City Paper.

“I think his view is that right now with sequestration going on, and until we strike some sort of grand bargain on the deficit, there’s just not a whole lot of extra money floating around out there for projects like this,” Hill said.

Jeff Boothe, a partner at Holland and Knight law firm and a consultant working with the city on The Amp, is more optimistic. He is chair of the New Starts Working Group, which lobbies for mass transit projects. The name of the group refers to the New Starts program, from which Nashville will be seeking funding, and Boothe said the program’s funding level as authorized by Congress last summer includes enough room for The Amp. If Congress were to approve the president’s requested increase in funding for the program, he said, there would be even more.

“I share Congressman Cooper’s frustration with the budget process, and frustration with this whole sequestration effort,” he said. “And frustration over the failure to adopt a full-year appropriations bill has led to implementation of sequestration. But we’re optimistic that Congress will do its business for this calendar year and that they will have a fiscal year 2014 appropriations bill done that will fund the New Starts program, and will fund it at the level at or close to the president’s request level.”

Boothe also said that Federal Transit Administration officials were very positive about the project at a recent meeting, and have not discouraged the city from applying for funding.

The Mayor’s office echoed that optimisim.

“Recognizing that money is tight everywhere, we’ve been working with the FTA for more than a year now to help ensure this project gets funding,” said Dean spokeswoman Bonna Johnson. “We’ve been hearing encouraging things from them, even as recently as last month when we met with them in D.C. We believe the Amp project is on track.”

The $174 million project would require $75 million in federal funds, which transit officials have said are “essential for the project to move forward.” At a project update last month, Metro officials could not offer a target date for the city’s application for federal funds. The current timeline for the project has the city applying sometime next year.

Doubts about federal support for the project come as a new group of business owners and residents along the corridor are preparing to go public with their opposition. Group organizers said they’ll be coming out formally, in the next week or so, under the name TN Responsible Transit.

Among them is John Carnes, who owns the West End property where Cumberland Transit and several other shops are located. Carnes, who also lives along the corridor, said the group is supportive of public transit in general, but opposes The Amp as currently planned. They’d like to see more discussion and more data about the route, and it’s potential effects on the busy thoroughfare.

“My general position is that the MTA and their public relations firms who put on this series of neighborhood meetings, that there was not full disclosure at this time,” he said. “It was just trying to sell it to us. And just trying to gloss over these issues and for us to go away. But the reality is that we’re not going away. We’re getting very much stronger. We’ve got a lot of support in the community. A lot of support from businesses along the corridor, and our neighborhood support is growing daily.”

Carnes said the group has even had discussions with some of the largest businesses along the corridor, but that many are hesitant to be seen publicly opposing the project.

“It’s difficult for everyone to come out in this situation, publicly,” he said. “Because many people have relationships with the city, in development or some type of business relationship. And they don’t want to get on the bad side of the mayor.”

After a brief pause, he added: “But I don’t really care if I’m on the bad side of the mayor.”

Dean and Metro transit officials have held up the corridor as the obvious starting point for bus rapid transit in the city, noting the high numbers of employees and residents along the route and it’s status as Nashville’s “Main Street.” At a project update last month, Dean defended the route against opponents who have said Charlotte Avenue might make more sense for the project, by noting the importance of the federal funding for the project.

“You also need to be in an area where there’s a density there, in terms of people living there that can support it,” he said at the time. “And in terms of the ridership, this is the corridor that the federal government will support. Federal funding to this is essential. As we say, it’s about [43] percent. So you have to do it along a corridor that the federal government’s going to be supportive of.”

18 Comments on this post:

By: nvestnbna on 5/17/13 at 7:46

I support the Amp as a first step, Charlotte and others would be great next steps. East Nashville which seems to be the most progressive, cool neighborhood in the city is solidly behind it because they believe in 'transit oriented development'. West End is still escalating as far as density goes, , especially in the area of Mr. Carnes property, do you want to come up with a mechanism to relieve and encourage the transit issues along West End??? I say yes!!!

As far as the Mayor responding to neighborhood pleas, I am less hopeful. The downtown precinct on KVB(the lack of parking and the neighborhood preferred site) and his choosing not to respond to 90+% of the business and property owners in the area really tarnishes any image he may have relative to consideration of stakeholders interests.

By: CountryBoyinCity on 5/17/13 at 8:12

Concerns have been raised over the loss of some on-street parking spaces as a part of this project. Many of these spaces are only available during off-peak times on evenings and weekends.When one compares the marginal benefits to the marginal costs of the east-west connector project, the loss of a few temporary parking spaces is minor compared to the benefit of 1.3 million rapid transit trips per year. 1.3 million trips a year equates to 25,000 trips per week, which means 3,571 trips per day. I would gladly trade a few parking spaces in front of my business if it meant 25,000 potential customers would be delivered to my front door each week and none of them had to worry about where to park.

By: watchdog55 on 5/17/13 at 8:29

I think the BRT/Amp is a very BAD idea. Use the money to improve our current transit, but don't destroy West End. Yesterday as I was driving down West End, I could not help but think what it might be like with the BRT running down the middle of West End with dedicated lanes taking over at least two of the current center lanes. Riders having to cross busy lanes of traffic to get to the middle where they will be entering and exiting buses. What a nightmare. I recently read about plans to expand traffic lanes for Nolensville Pike, and yet the mayor's office is pushing to take away traffic lanes for cars on West End. I doubt 60 percent of the people even understand what is about to happen to West End if the BRT is approved.

By: noitall on 5/17/13 at 8:55

Let's assume this project has a 20-year life span. 1.3 million trips times 20 years is 26 million trips. and $174 million of taxpayer money is being used to fund it. that means that each trip is costing about $6.70. even if we assume that the project is a huge success and that ridership grows significantly over that 20-year period resulting in double the number of total trips to 52 million, we're still looking at $3.35 per trip over a 20-year period. and I'm not even sure the $174 million includes annual operating costs. AM I MISSING SOMETHING HERE or is this just an insane amount of money to solve only a small piece of an undeniable problem. I live less than a mile from the Harding/White Bridge Road intersection. And I promise you a $20 per hour traffic cop at that intersection and a few others along that route during rush hour would go a long way toward alleviating bottlenecks along the West End corridor...without totally disrupting the character of West End. and what will the amp do for east/west traffic on Woodmont Blvd. or north/south traffic on Hillsboro Road. or for the huge bottleneck every day at Nolensville Road and Thompson Lane? this is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a project that as far as i can tell is not part of any overall plan. and another example of the dean administration's fixation on massive spending projects while ignoring the nuts and bolts of good government.

By: jenpen on 5/17/13 at 11:25

Removing two lanes of car traffic on Harding/West End promises at least 100% more traffic instantly. (Imagine the increase in air pollution!) They have requested an exemption from environmental impact studies!!!

I seriously question the ridership figures AND the population density along this corridor. Looks like they included all the college students (who do not drive the economy) and the population of the Study Area, which is far larger than 1/2 mile from the corridor.

The initial 175 Million investment does NOT include maintence, that will be 4.1 Million per year, unless the ridership is below the forecasts, and no answer to repeated questions has been given as to how much that will cost. C'mon people...this thing is crazy!

By: Bighair on 5/17/13 at 12:00

I cannot imagine the havoc that will result if two lanes of car traffic are removed on West End to make way for the Amp--a public transit system that will benefit a very small percent of the city's population. And the cost of the Amp is astonomical. No public transit system in the country pays for itself; not even in cities the size of Washington, D.C., where the Metro is a constant drain on the federal budget. These transit systems start off all shiny and new and are not well-maintained--just look at N.Y.C. Does Nashville really need this? Can we really afford this? Who will really benefit from this? I don't think it is the majority of the taxpayers.

By: Bill Patterson on 5/17/13 at 12:21

We now have access to MTA's own traffic impact study regarding the proposed BRT. The study titled "MTA February 2012 Final Report of the Broadway/West End Corridor Study" documents enormous immediate increase in traffic congestion if the BRT is built as planned.
Their study estimates immediate congestion increase at Harding Rd./West End of 157%. Immediate increase in congestion at Bowling Ave./West End of 388%. 31st Avenue/West End increase of 140%. 16th Avenue/Broadway increase of 75%. THESE ARE THEIR OWN ESTIMATES.
This proposal wil ruin the West End corridor for all the commuters who use it and all the businesses located on it.
We can only hope that reason will prevail and MTA scraps this terribly flawed current proposal and comes up with something more reasonable.

By: MusicCityUSA on 5/17/13 at 2:25

There was some good information in the article but few facts to back up the controversy that the project's opponents are trying to raise. There are over over 20 BRT projects in the U.S. 5 of which are designed to a level similar to the proposed Amp system. It's likely that the Amp, if constructed as currently proposed, will eclipse the Cleveland Health Line as the premier U.S. example of BRT. That will be a new source of pride for our City in addition to making it easier for people to move around town. Even though the U.S. doesn't have a "Gold Standard" BRT system yet, I have been unable to find a single example of a "failed" BRT line, much less one that "ruined" a corridor. They've all been successful in attracting private investment around the public investment to create a net benefit. There are many people working hard to make Nashville a better place and support important projects like the Amp. Articles like this one remind me of how much work there is still to do.

By: jenpen on 5/17/13 at 9:19

Nothing in the original article is based on information from AMP/BRT proponents' report that was filed with the FTA. The information in my first comment is based solely on the info in that report, which required a Freedom of Information Act form to obtain.

I can back up everything I said with information from that report, and then some!

To simply state that economic development has happened around BRT does not prove that it has had a positive impact overall. Where are the ridership figures? Where, really, are the public support numbers? Where are the traffic studies? How did we come up with the proposed ridership figures in Nashville? What will be the impact on the current transit system, which is supposed to stay in place (according to the report submitted to the FTA?) How much ridership will the BRT take away from the current transit system

I am asking real questions and putting forth real information.

So, MusicCity, I welcome your responses, point by point. Did you read the report? Are you another paid consultant?

SHOW YOURSELF! The taxpayers deserve at least that much!

By: jenpen on 5/17/13 at 10:15

MusicCity,

I also expect you to answer in concrete terms, what I put forth in my first post, which I did not directly challenge you to do in my second post. Again, I ask you to answer point by point with references to THE REPORT SUBMITTED TO THE FTA.

In case you haven't read it, it specifies all the reasons that BRT WILL FAIL BY ITS OWN STANDARDS! (Hint: See page 3-11 which shows Table 3-9.)

After reading this, please tell me why AMP/BRT shouls be exempted from having to comply with ANY EPA STANDARDS.

Again, if you are a paid consultant, please show yourself. It's only fair.

By: justbntwan70 on 5/19/13 at 9:37

BRT is just a lazy appeasement for not having to build a true light rail system in Nashville.

By: Adam Nicholson on 5/19/13 at 11:13

The Amp BRT will be a great start in taking the long view for Nashville's growth. Our population is projected to grow by nearly 1 million people in the next 20 years. We're a major relocation city, a "boom town," and the "it city," but we have plenty of room for improvement.

A 2010 study from CEOs for Cities ranks Nashville’s commute the worst in the country in terms of trip length. We're number 1 in the country for air pollution from vehicles, third for the most miles driven, per capita, among large cities, and received an "F" grade from the American Lung Association for its air quality, according to a 2004 report by Public Interest Research group. In 2008 we had the 6th worst carbon footprint in the country, according Nashville Buisiness Journal. Nashville has the highest incidents of respiratory infections, and is the third most expensive city in the country for driving, according to a 2005 study by Sperling's Best Places.

On a positive note, every $1 spent on transit produces $4 of economic development (publictransportation.org). After years of studies, it's been determined that the East West corridor is the best place to start a better planned Nashville.

By: MusicCityUSA on 5/19/13 at 4:16

JenPen,
I am not a consultant, I'm not being paid by anyone to share my opinion. I'm a concerned citizen like yourself. However, I believe this project is the right move for Nashville. I think most rational and reasonable people will agree.

Here's some concrete information from the GAO's 2012 report on BRT projects in the US:
Costs - page 41:
"Cleveland’s Healthline incorporates the most BRT features of any project we examined and cost $200 million to construct, which is comparable to some of the less costly rail transit projects."
Cleveland's Healthline is also the most similar project in the US to the proposed AMP project here in Nashville.
Benefits - Forward
"officials in Cleveland told us that between $4 and $5 billion was invested near the Healthline BRT project—associated with major hospitals and universities in the corridor."

That's a whopping 1,900% Return on Investment... just in capital costs BRT vs capital improvements generated in the corridor, it doesn't include increased tax revenue from the new development.

Your turn to give an example of a failed BRT project. Good luck!

source: http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/592973.pdf

By: MusicCityUSA on 5/19/13 at 4:31

...also the Healthline in Cleveland's ridership was better and actually grew faster than projected.
Ridership 2009 - 3.9M
Ridership 2011 - 4.5M
source: http://sustainablecommunitiesleadershipacademy.org/resource_files/documents/Calabrese-Healthline-Ridership.pdf

By: Vuenbelvue on 5/21/13 at 6:32

"$174 million dollar project would require $75 million of federal dollars to go forward" but the article says that Congressman Cooper said that that won't happen because of the spending cuts or Sequestration. Neither Congressman Cooper or Alexander were able to get funding for a new $125 million Federal Court building that was to be built at the corner to nowhere after 10 years on the list.
The route down West End is strictly residential until one gets to St Thomas Hospital and Woodmont Blvd. Nothing of substance is there except the hospital and it has zero land to develop into a $4 to $5 billion Health center and University corridor so I think it is disingenuous of you to push that and the ridership numbers.
Looking at the budget numbers provided for Charlotte Pike or $35 million a mile you can go 5 miles for the $174 million. I think you will run out of track before you get to the fire station on West End/Bowling Avenue if your starting near the Caterpillar Headquarters.
What these numbers don't consider is that it takes decades to build high density downtowns. Cleveland, Ohio has been a huge metropolitan city for over 100 years and Nashville hasn't..

By: MusicCityUSA on 5/23/13 at 9:39

Vuenbelvue,
Its pretty simple. Cleveland is just one of many successful BRT projects, though not identical, it is the closest example to the AMP. Las Vegas and Eugene, OR also have projects somewhat similar to the AMP. The Cleveland numbers are significant because they were actually much higher than expected. Eugene's were even better. The majority of Nashville's major competitor City/Regions are building rapid transit, and they are starting with their densest corridors for a reason. Charlotte, Austin are going the light rail route; we will be competing with Indianapolis for BRT funding. The densest corridor has the best chance for success right off the bat. It would be throwing money away to start the project on a lower density corridor. The FTA knows this and that is why the Mayor is right to say we will not be competitive if the project is proposed on a different road in Nashville. West End-Woodland-Main Street is the most dense corridor and connects all of the major attractions from East to West. BRT gives the most bang for the rapid-transit buck.
You seem to imply that West Nashville doesn't have businesses and destinations worth visiting which is odd, considering how hard East Nashville worked to be included in the project. I would challenge you to look for answers to why our peer cities are investing in rapid transit rather than looking for reasons to maintain the status-quo. It comes down to return on investment. I believe in Nashville, and in working for an even better future.
The opposition has not been able to produce an example of a failed BRT project. Because there aren't examples of failed BRT projects, only examples of communities who failed to believe in themselves and could not form the political will to invest in rapid transit. A future where the AMP doesn't happen is a future where we will have failed each other as citizens and as neighbors.

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By: rixstuh on 6/19/13 at 10:10

In reference to MusicCity's May 19 , 23 comments on Cleveland's Healthline BRT "success", I do not question, per-se, any touted benefits of its BRT venture. What you did totally fail to consider was the fact that Cleveland has had in place a well established heavy- and light-rail system for quite a few decades - since post-war years (1955) - the initial heavy-rail system having been built and expanded upon a few miles of existing right of way once part of the former electrified Cleveland Union Terminal RR, the need of which was obviated when diesel's replaced the dirtier coal-fired steam locomotives into and out of Cleveland's Terminal Tower (now Terminal City). This east-west line, in addition to a few existing streetcar lines with beginnings during pre-war years (streetcars transitioning into modern light-rail cars), eventually have evolved into the present-day Greater Cleveland RTA, including its extensive system of buses.

One major but seemingly overlooked factor underlying the touted success of the Healthline BRT is the fact that it comprises a new constituent of a multi-modal mass-transit system: standard bus, heavy-rail, light-rail, and now a BRT line. If one examines the integration of the new Healthline BRT into the Cleveland system, it would be discovered that this line actually serves as a "surface" parallel to the east leg of the existing Red Line (heavy-rail), this portion of which serves the East
Cleveland district along the dense and distant Euclid Ave., from Public Square (Tower City) to Windermere.

To this extent, the Healthline BRT provides an arguably much needed alternative to the existing parallel, long proven Red Line rail route, as it serves far more passenger boarding points than does its rail counterpart, and with much more frequency., while maintaining intrinsic speed advantages over standard local bus service. The Healthline BRT manages medium-sized groups of transit riders along relatively short distances, while the parallel Red Line rail handles larger (trains) of riders along longer distances. In this particular scenario, Cleveland might appear to have the best of both worlds: BRT supplementing a parallel rail line.

Whether or not earlier posted statements concerning the ROI on Cleveland's BRT were intended as absolute and singular, the fact is, that particular BRT is synergistic to Cleveland's already well established rapid-transit infrastructure. On the contrary, Mayor Dean's intent is to create basically a standalone "rapid" system start-up in Nashville. Cleveland's BRT is not a standalone rapid system. The same can be said about Boston's MBTA Silverline BRT.

Perhaps a little discussed benefit of the East-West AMP might be a corridor connection for Music City Star riders to and from Vandy and White Bridge Road. Again, that would be subjective.