Don’t Wonder If, But When On County Mass Transit Question

Williamson, Inc.’s Transportation Summit on Wednesday at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs had everyone in the room thinking about the best way to get somewhere else.

From 11 a.m to 1 p.m. the third-annual summit meeting summarized the current state of transit in Williamson County and marked progress made in the past year in what Williamson, Inc. CEO Matt Largen called in his opening remarks “our yearly check-up.” Most importantly, however, the summit served to sketch out possibilities of its hopeful path in the coming months and years.

We're live at the 3rd Annual Transportation Summit!#WillCoMoves

Posted by Williamson, Inc. on Wednesday, October 18, 2017

More and more clearly, that future seems likely to eventually include creating a mass-transit system at a level previously unprecedented in Williamson County. In late September, more than 90 local public-and-private sector leaders visited Denver, Colorado on a chamber-of-commerce organized fact-finding trip. Denver and its surrounding counties provide a strong analog to the social, economic and demographic dynamics of Nashville and its surrounding, developing counties.

The two main speakers at the summit were Denver regional planner Troy Russ and Kimley Hown, who helped plan and implement the Rocky Mountain city’s super smooth mass transit system. Russ discussed funding possibilities. He talked about how over time a transit system will create much more value than what it cost to build. Though to build transit that will create that kind of value requires a big expense up front in a short time period. Russ also spoke about¬†the multi-modal approach to designing a system, and the mixed-use transit-oriented developments that grew around the Denver system.

Denver and its surrounding eight-county Regional Transit District also approved and started in 2004 a $4.7 billion multi-modal mass transit expansion project to connect the region with commuter rail, light rail and rapid express bus lines.  It was paid for by a publicly-approved 0.4 percent sales tax increase.

As it came online, mixed-use growth exploded along and around the multi-modal hubs, proving that far from being a huge expense to the region, the system not only pays for its own creation in the long run but by acting as an economic engine continually adds value.

In short, the trip to see it first-hand means that county leaders see that as a model for Middle Tennessee to follow, the 10-county Regional Transit Authority could do a lot worse.

Of course, nothing could be said at the summit that did not somehow connect back to the proposed transit system unveiled this week.

Largen pointed out that the plan ends at the county line.

“But this proposal is not the finish line,” he said. “it is a starting point to connect our regional neighbors.”

How the system will grow south depends on the findings of the upcoming Southern Corridors Study, being conducted by Nasvhille Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“The study will help build the map out south and help us chart our course in the transit system we pick that makes the most sense for our community,” Largen said.

Whatever shape that things take in Williamson County, no two places need to, and will, work more closely together than Davidson and Williamson Counties.

Currently, Largen said, about an equal number of people commute past each other to work each day.

“No two counties are more connected in Tennessee than Davidson and Williamson Counties,” Largen said. “We share the same labor force. This study will focus on transit needs that connect Nashville to Williamson County, to Brentwood, Cool Springs, Franklin, Spring Hill.”

With a draft plan of the study expected by about this time next year, giving a first look at the rough outline of the future of transportation and growth.

“It will outline realistic options for transit and transport for the future,” Largen said.

That future will not stop at imposing efficiency and organization into the way people get from point A to B. The study also will pick the ideal locations for future growth and development, and plan future roads to future communities.

But for now, transit seems ambitious enough.

“The study will outline realistic options for transit and transport,” Largen said. “Also, it is our best opportunity to define what projects and developments will go where.”