Council funds BRT start, $300M capital improvement budget

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 8:50am

Bus rapid transit scored an important initial victory at the courthouse Tuesday night, as the Metro Council voted to approve Mayor Karl Dean’s capital spending plan including $7.5 million in funding for the Amp project.

Metro Transit Authority CEO Paul Ballard, echoing previous statements from the mayor, told council members at a joint committee meeting earlier Tuesday that approving those funds would show the federal government that Nashville was serious about transit. Federal funding will be crucial for the proposed $175 million bus rapid transit system along the West End corridor to become a reality.

While it dominated the council’s discussion, the Amp funds represent a tiny piece of the mayor’s $300 million capital spending plan, which the council left unaltered. Metro Schools will receive $95 million to replace Goodlettsville Middle School, renovate and open Waverly Belmont Elementary School and build a new elementary school in Antioch, along with maintenance projects and school expansions across the district. (See additional items included in the spending plan listed below).

The plan also includes $27 million for the MTA, $7.5 million of which is designated for final design and engineering on the proposed bus rapid transit project. Those funds would only be spent if the Federal Transit Administration accepts the project into its Small Starts program.

An amendment proposed by Councilman Josh Stites would have preserved the Amp funds, but required a study to be done on Charlotte Avenue, among other corridors, as a potential alternate route for BRT. The idea received some support, but ultimately failed on a voice vote.

Councilman Jason Holleman, who has raised questions previously about whether Charlotte Avenue would be a better starting point for an upgraded transit system in the city said he shared Stites’ concerns about the degree to which alternate routes had been analyzed. He said he was conflicted, but ultimately he voted to support the administration and move forward with the plan as proposed.

“I think what we need to do in this conversation going forward is think about how we can do both,” he said, citing discussions with the Dean administration about bringing a BRT lite service to Charlotte Ave. in the near future.

Councilman Peter Westerholm spoke in support of the plan, echoing the strong pitch coming from the Dean administration in recent weeks.

“What has been proposed right now, in the Amp, the 7.1 mile stretch around West End through downtown over into East Nashville represents the best place to start,” he said. “This is an area that does have lots of housing, a lot of residents do reside in this area who use transit. You already have active transit users in this area, you have places of work, you have places of recreation, of entertainment — all the metrics that experts use to determine where transit projects should take place.”

The mayor has repeatedly claimed that West End is the only route in the city that will get support from the federal government, and transit officials have insisted that they considered other routes.

The council also took up the capital improvements budget, a wish list of sorts including projects the council can approve funding for during the next five years. If a capital project is not included in the capital improvements budget, it cannot be funded by the council.

An amendment proposed by Councilman Robert Duvall that would have removed $59 million — the estimated amount Metro will need to chip in for the project — designated for BRT from the capital improvements budget sparked debate but was ultimately defeated by a vote of 28-6. Duvall called the Amp as proposed “absolutely ludicrous,” although some of the issues he cited — such as significant increases in traffic congestion — were based on analysis that transit officials have repeatedly said do not reflect their current plan. He also expressed concern about the loss of on-street parking and the negative effect it could have on businesses along West End.

At-Large Councilman Charlie Tygard was among those supporting Duvall’s amendment. Earlier, Tygard had pressed Ballard about why the council should approve any funding for the Amp before the administration identified local funding sources for the project.

More than anything, though, the council’s first public discussion of the Amp revealed varying levels of familiarity with the basic details of the proposed project. As some council members discussed the pros and cons of the project, others seemed to be playing catch-up.

To open the discussion, Councilman Phil Claiborne asked for clarification about what A-M-P stood for, saying no one had been able to explain the project’s name to him. The name is not an acronym, however, but rather a music-themed moniker rolled out by brand consultants back in April. Councilmember Bruce Stanley blamed administration officials.

“I have been kept in the dark about this A-M-P, or this Amp,” he said.

During a committee discussion on the same amendment before the council’s meeting, Councilman Tony Tenpenny told members “I really don’t know anything about it,” and wondered aloud whether, instead of bus rapid transit, the project should use rail or perhaps go underground. While some have raised questions about the amount of attention given to alternative routes for the Amp, few if any have suggested rethinking the method of transit it will use, which was determined by an Alternatives Analysis in 2011.

The capital improvements budget was eventually approved, with the addition of one item allowing for future capital projects at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.

Other items in the mayor’s $300 million spending plan include:

  • $20 million for road paving and $8 million for sidewalks
  • $2 million for bikeways and $3 million for greenways
  • $4 million for maintenance projects at libraries, including new carpet, paint and HVAC (this will be the first time the Nashville Public Library will be provided an on-going source for general maintenance for the branch libraries)
  • $1 million to Limitless Libraries to upgrade two middle school libraries, similar to the Hillwood High School library renovation that was undertaken with private funds
  • $1 million for deferred maintenance at Centennial Sportsplex
  • $1.5 million for Phase 2 of the Centennial Park Master Plan and $1.5 million for Phase 3 of the Shelby Park Master Plan
  • $5 million for road and infrastructure changes at the entrance to the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, which is currently undergoing a major expansion (the Nashville Zoo is located on land owned by Metro Parks)

22 Comments on this post:

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 6/12/13 at 6:59

If people went to some other parts of the county, they would realize there are bad traffic problems in other areas than the West End-East Nashville area. The amp will do absolutely nothing to help most of Davidson County. Approving these funds makes no sense because the federal government is very unlikely to contribute. Some roads are in really good shape, and many others are terrible, so why is more being spent on "design and engineering" for this West End bus than on all the roads in the county?

By: Rocket99 on 6/12/13 at 7:19

I think Charlotte Ave would benefit from BRT a lot more than West End. Most of the people who live along West End currently do not, and most likely in the future, will not use public transit unless they absolutely have to. People who live along Charlotte use it daily. It would also greatly help the small businesses along Charlotte.

I feel the main reason they are focused on West End is because it's more visible and already more appealing to the eye, not because they really want to reduce traffic problems.

By: TN Dispatcher on 6/12/13 at 7:38

I don't understand how this will work and to allow Taxis to coexist with bus transit. Nashville has made a strong decision to protect the economic viability of Taxis and we should continue to.

Therefore all bus riders should follow the below rules:
1. Each rider should be prearranged.
2. A manifest of all riders should be housed for one year.
3. All rides should be at minimum $45 per use per day.

If we do anything except the above, we will destroy the taxi industry. As Terry Clements says, "we have to protect taxis". .......even if it anti-competitive for the industry. Nashville really has no choice.

Go TAXI!

By: Captain Nemo on 6/12/13 at 8:08

There has been a lot of apartment building going up on and near the West End corridor and I can see the benefit BRT will have. I would also think it could relieve some of the traffic on Charlotte.

I’m not sure what can be done about the taxis, except drivers education.

By: NewYorker1 on 6/12/13 at 8:39

Why is driving a bus up West End so expensive? Somebody is getting bent over on this one and it sounds like it's the tax payers as usual. LOL...

By: Radix on 6/12/13 at 8:50

Its sad and pathetic that we have to jump through hoops for the Federal Government to *maybe - if we're lucky* give us our own money back *if* they approve of what we are going to do with it.

By: Captain Nemo on 6/12/13 at 8:51

The corridor between Nashville and Murfreesboro sure could use mass transit system. Have you ever been on it during rush hour? It is a rare day when there is not an accident on it

By: sharko20 on 6/12/13 at 9:07

Relieve traffic on Charlotte? Where do you think all the cars will go when West End becomes a two lane road? Are you aware there will be no left turns accept at major intersections?

I road down to look at the MCC last night. Nothing going on there. That expensive monster should be running 24/7. So what do these geniuses want to do ? Spend tons of money on what will be another under used project that will ruin a major street.

These people are addicted to spending other people's money. Our Massachusetts born mayor won't be happy until Nashville is broke like so many other cities. Heaven help us if he decides he wants a higher office.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 6/12/13 at 10:30

Yesterday I received in the mail a very slick expensive mailer from "The Transit Alliance.org", It told me how wonderful the amp would be and how it would make my life more enjoyable while I was going to and from work down West End Ave. "Corridors like downtown-West End already are clogged with cars (only at rush hour):air-quality limits are being pushed despite newer cars (I believe we are in compliance with federal limits); efficiency (at what cost)...". "(West End) is the densest seven miles in Middle Tennessee in terms of population, cars on the road and commercial properties, with more developments in the works..(they must have never been to Nolensville Rd).". All of these quotes are attributed to the Tennessean newspaper. Now I travel this route every work day commute and several times during the day. I don't ever encounter stand still traffic except between 31st ave and Murphy Rd and thats only in the evening rush from 5:30-6:30. Even then the wait is never more that 10 min's or so. Take out two lanes and no telling what it will be! This is the biggest wast of taxpayer money I've seen in years. I've never seen such a full court press by the Mayors office, the Tennessean and all of the entities and individuals that stand to benefit either financially or professionally from this trough of pork. Just take a minute and really look at the company's and individuals that are involved and promoting this travesty. Gnar, hoping to make commissions on future sales on West End, Mr. Ballard, trying to cement his job security at the expense of common sense, The Chamber of Commerce, never saw a money spending project that they didn't like. A host of surrounding counties representatives who are all for Davidson county spending $200 million dollars that they won't have to pay. Engineering firms, AECom, AEi, Barge,Wagoner, Littlejohn engineering, Smith Seckman Reid eng., RPM & ass (I think they are the ones who spent all that money on the bicycle appliqué's on the Woodlawn repaving project) all looking for a piece of the pie, and the list goes on and on. The one thing that is glaringly missing is public support and backing! This is a money wasting project that isn't needed or wanted by the majority of the people that will have to pay for it. If you want more walkable neighborhoods then pour some sidewalks on Harding Place around Nolensville Rd for the poor people who have to walk to the grocery store and really need someone to do someone to do something for them. TWO HUNDRED MILLION dollars folks, doesn't matter where the money comes from, local, federal, state, it's still way to much money. It comes from us ultimately. Wake up and call your council person they rubber stamp to many of the Mayors wishes. What could the school system do with the 7.5 million that was just appropriated? The animal control people? The infrastructure that is needed, bridges, repaving? It's our money and our decision, but you must let your representative's know how you feel or the Mayors office and the people who will make money off of you will get it's way once again.

By: MusicCity615 on 6/12/13 at 10:31

Sharko-

The music city center has booked over 1 million room nights. You drive down there one night (a few days after it opens) and don't see activity (coventions aren't held at night usually anyways) and you then deem it a failure?

By: MusicCity615 on 6/12/13 at 10:32

Sharko-

Would you prefer to build more roads and highways? ok, who's going to pay for it? ROADS cost money too! When have roads and highways ever made money?

By: Captain Nemo on 6/12/13 at 11:23

We must not be traveling on the same West End, judy.

West End is a hard drive, just a Nolensville Rd and Gallatin Rd. Have you been off West End lately? Have you seen all of the construction of apartments on 31st Ave. and Long Bl. There is no way to make West End large enough to handle all the traffic generated by the people from this apartments.

There has to some sort of mass transporting to do this.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 6/12/13 at 12:44

We have mass transportation Capt'n, they are called buses, do you see many people using along West End. Besides we just cut through 28th ave so those new apt's. may use Charlotte Ave. There are not to many people using it, just ask the Amp consultants.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 6/12/13 at 12:49

And another thing Capt'n, if MTA used more smaller van based buses you could have more frequency of stops and less disruption of traffic flow because areas for smaller vehicles could be easier carved out of the sides of streets. More drivers, more jobs, less waiting at the bus stop. No $200 million dollars. But the downside....no shiny plaything for the politicians to show how "smart" they are with our money!

By: delltechkid on 6/12/13 at 1:38

Why does it have to go down West End Avenue? Do you think just putting in a bus means the cars that drive down it everyday (by people who don't live on the corridor) are just going to disappear? Can't we choose a road near West End Ave, with less congestion to use? What about train tracks and something similar to the Star? How about a road where lanes can be added without taking vehicle traffic lanes away? Removing these lanes from West End just means more traffic somewhere else. It's not fixing the problem. It will be pretty, but pretty doesn't mean much.

By: Captain Nemo on 6/12/13 at 3:25

I would think that the people that don't live on the corridor will part near a stop and take BRT in and then return. Much like they do with the Music City Star.

By: Captain Nemo on 6/12/13 at 3:27

I suppose we could debate this all day and if you don’t like the system or you don’t like the Mayor, you are not going to be satisfied with this project.

By: delltechkid on 6/12/13 at 3:38

The Star works because it prevents cars from even going downtown. Folks get on a train and then those cars never even go into the city. There's nowhere on the BRT Route for a large number of cars to park and then take BRT. If there were, I still doubt tons of people would drive *almost to their destination, then park and take a bus and add more wait/travel time to avoid the last 2-3 miles of their commute. These dollars are much better spent getting rid of traffic along the 24 or 65 corridor and using the regular surface buses we have now. OR move this BRT route to a road that doesn't already have a million cars and where the road can be widened to accompany it without losing traffic lanes.

I love BRT. I don't think this is the best way to do it and get people to buy into it.

By: Shane Smiley on 6/12/13 at 5:04

This is a large decision for the taxpayers of Davidson County.
In my opinion, destroying the feel and traffic flow of historic West end is a real shame.
Charlotte pike is begging for AMP. Unfortunately, any other than the proposed West End corridor stops the AMP's ability to carry hotel guests too and from the MCC and city core.
Make no mistake, this is a Chamber of Commerce project directly connected to the city core business model.
The tax payers will now be taking on the transportation fees associated with our hotel / tourism / convention industry.

By: Shane Smiley on 6/12/13 at 5:07

Charlotte Pike does not have the population density needed to acquire the federal funds needed to power the AMP project.
I believe Gallatin Pike and/or Murfreesboro Road may have the population density with adjusted High Density Zoning.
Metro had to do some rezoning to make the proposed West End corridor qualify for the federal funds.
I agree that the transit officials have looked at other routes but, their focus has always been on West End for the reasons I stated above.

By: BigPapa on 6/13/13 at 9:27

Shoehorning a bad idea into a bad situation only makes everything worse.

People. Love. Their. Cars. It's that simple. We are not set up for mass transit. It doesnt just mean Nashvillians are too stupid to use it or stubborn, it means that our entire lives will have to make a major shift in thinking and expectations.

#1 Are employers OK with workers having to leave at X time because they HAVE to get the next bus/train? Or not arriving until X because their work day is now 100% tied to the schedule? Will they adjust to that?
Will Nashvillians allow their kids and teens to jump on the bus and go to wherever? Sure would cut down on the Mom & Dad Taxi service and take cars off the road and (teen drivers off the road) but it means losing some control.
Can MTA adjust bus schedules and develop dedicated shuttles to expedite travel and cut down on transfers. (I usually drive 30 min into town, taking the bus would take me 2 hrs.)

By: Vuenbelvue on 6/13/13 at 7:35

The truth is no one cares about any of the above opinions. The Mayor's office and Chamber of Commerce along with 34 councilmen simply do not care what you think. It is like a mini-Washington, DC.

Music City 615 "The Music City center has booked over 1 million room nights." Please correct me if I am wrong but the 1,000,000 room nights are spread out from now to around 2026 so an average would be 77,000 room nights a year. (May 17, 2013 The Tennessean)