Last fall, the county set out to create a strategy to deal with traffic in a long-term, big-picture way.
A comprehensive traffic strategy study was commissioned to look at traffic, growth, and projections, and come up with ways to manage and, most tricky, pay for it all. The goal: so that, by 2040, the county is a celebrated example rather than a cautionary nightmare.
Last week, the results were discussed in a public meeting. The study concluded that the county needs to invest $371 million into its roads– as in, those in the unincorporated county and not the cities– by 2040. If not, traffic will get much, much worse. It presented five ways to come up with the money, three of which include property tax increases from between 9 to 41 cents per $100 of taxable property. The current tax rate is $2.15.
Findings: Traffic Woes
Currently, the worst congestion is on Hillsboro Road and Sneed Road, but traffic congestion is actually increasing faster elsewhere. The study found that by 2040 traffic and congestion on county roads will be just as bad on Arno Road, Nolensville Road, Horton Highway and Clovercroft Road. Other fast-increasing roads include Murfreesboro Road, Vaughn Road, I-840, Lewisburg Pike and Old Natchez Trace.
Interestingly, the study concluded that most of the increased traffic on major roadways is currently coming from commuters living outside Williamson County. They connect this to the rising cost of Williamson County housing, driving low-and-middle income earners to reside in surrounding areas. Currently, this so-called regional traffic makes up 52 percent of county traffic.
But it is residential growth within the county that the study sees as the “next big contributor.”
It found that in the unincorporated part of the county has room for some 58,000 more houses, at a rate of 1,500 each year. That rate is four-times faster than previous years. Most of this residential growth the study predicts will be in the unincorporated part of the county east of I-65, about 65 percent of all such growth in the next 25 years.
Costly Solutions, Tough Choices
The study, having itemized a fairly bleak picture, then assesses solutions and tools.
Some are being used already, like traffic shed, which anchors housing growth to road capacity by requiring developers to improve and build roads.
Other currently used tools include commissioning traffic studies, developing Masterplans, of which the county currently has two comprised of more than a hundred road projects, and adjusting zoning to limit and direct growth.
The study, in fact, offers no new tools. It does, however, conclude that finding new ones is not the issue, finding money to pay for the ones we have is.
It concludes the county itself needs $378 million to execute all the tools and projects to address the current and coming traffic problem.
In contrast, the roads budget for the current fiscal year is $11.5 million.
Ways to raise that money the study said are a wheel tax, a gas tax, a business tax, impact fees, sales tax, and property tax.
The study lays out five scenarios that make the most sense to raise the money. Property tax raises the most money the most directly and is also currently the lowest rate in Middle Tennessee.