An op-ed from Tennessee State Representative Mike Sparks
I-24 SOMEWHERE NORTH OF SMYRNA, Tenn. –
Interstate 24 from Rutherford County to Nashville, which goes through my district, might be consistently the most congested stretch of highway in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. With the exponential growth of middle Tennessee, drivers face increased traffic congestion daily. While stuck in traffic, many of us who commute to Nashville are asking ourselves the same question: What else can be done to help alleviate our traffic problems?
Our government and our leaders need to learn to do more with less without increasing taxes.
We should continue to pursue options such as encouraging ridesharing, alternative work schedules, and an improved BRT Bus Rapid Transit system, HOV lane enforcement as a few options to reduce traffic. At the age of 19, I was working in the factory at Whirlpool in Lavergne and I would pay a coworker $5 each week to carpool.
As I drive from my home district to Nashville, I have watched how bad the traffic congestion is getting. I have continuously promoted ridesharing, which has encouraged my staff to carpool, many of whom are using the new mobile app Hytch Rewards, to carpool to the busy city of Nashville.
As lawmakers, we are here to serve the public and seek good policy in a cost effective manner. My resolution HJR 0726, urges government officials and transit authorities to make efforts to study highway efficiency and to work in public-private partnerships before increasing taxes as a means of addressing heavy traffic congestion, to do and explore everything in its capacity to manage traffic problems. It will also seek private sector assistance. There are private sector services out there, like Uber, Lyft, Hytch Rewards and even Amazon with its efficient delivery systems, stepping up in different ways to fill the lack of leadership and drought of direction in addressing congestion.
Companies like these are great examples of how, with certain issues, the private sector gets it right while the government often gets it wrong. These companies are looking for and successfully finding solutions. The state should support and learn from the private sector. Unfortunately, we still have much to improve on.
We can look to the private sector for innovative solutions. However, we can take a look at the tools we have now, and see they are not effective. Tennessee has a law in place making it illegal during a few hours at the busiest times of the day, to drive alone in the carpool, or HOV lane. TDOT estimates that up to 90% of drivers in the HOV lane during restricted hours are violating state law.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol issued an all-time low of 162 tickets in 2016 statewide for violating our HOV laws. There are 147 miles of highway with HOV lane. 121 of those HOV miles are in the Middle Tennessee area, where traffic continues to worsen. Arizona has 190 miles of HOV lanes and issued 7,364 citations in 2015. Virginia, with 113 HOV miles, had more than 100 times the citations than Tennessee, with 18,194 in 2013, the most recently available number. In Dallas, alone, 5,369 HOV citations were issued in 2016. Furthermore, a fellow legislator has a bill that increases HOV fines, which is $50, the lowest allowed by Federal law.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III gave me his opinion that HOV violation should be treated as a moving violation. This would significantly strengthen enforcement. House Speaker, Representative Beth Harwell, 56th District, also understands the issues surrounding our existing HOV laws. In 2008, Harwell pioneered a change in HOV laws that made exceptions for drivers of low emission vehicles. She has lead on this issue, and she understands the importance of taking action.
Davidson County may decide to spend billions of dollars on building a mass transit system in a few months, which would require a tax increase. Rutherford County will likely be next in line to build an expensive transit system, which again would require another tax increase.
Let’s explore, learn, be creative, and do everything we can to leverage the private sector, thus getting things right in the public sector. We are all tired of being stuck in I-24 traffic, together let’s do something.