State, city and local officials gathered Oct. 30 to kick off a project to update the Greater Nashville Regional Council’s Regional Transportation Plan, which seeks to make recommendations for how Nashville and surrounding cities should approach transportation projects through 2040.
The GNRC introduced the RTP in 2016 as an outline of recommendations for $8.5 billion in expected federal funding for regional transportation projects for the area over 25 years. The GNRC is made up of city leaders, transportation agencies and state officials, all chosen to determine transportation solutions for the area.
The kickoff event featured remarks from a number of area leaders, including Gov. Bill Lee, officials with WeGo Public Transit and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
“The reason we get to address this challenge is because of the unique situation we find ourselves in of great prosperity economically in this region, [as the] 11th-fastest growing major metropolitan area in the country,” Lee said. “We provide more opportunity for folks in our region when we have this kind of growth. But it does come at a risk. If we don’t lead in ways that we have a responsibility to lead in, then we risk that continued opportunity.”
The 2021 update to the RTP will take place over the next year, according to the GNRC. The RTP is updated every five years to account for growth, funding and emerging technologies, according to the GNRC.
According to the GNRC, by 2040, the region will see an estimated 76% increase in population, which will contribute to 86% more roadway volume, 26% slower traffic speeds and 113% more time spent in cars for commuters.
Lee said besides costing residents their time in traffic, congestion in the area is ultimately costly for businesses as well, particularly those that rely on drivers to carry out business.
“Congestion is problematic for people driving to and from work, but congestion also puts a great economic chokehold on a lot of businesses,” Lee said. “I used to run a company that had 500 vehicles. When they sit in traffic ... potentially sitting in traffic for 10, 20, 30 [minutes to] an hour more than they should be, and you start multiplying those numbers out on businesses, it has profound negative impact on our businesses as well.”
Following several months of community engagement, project evaluations, planning and drafting, the GNRC is expected to adopt the updated plan in February 2021.
The updated RTP is expected not only to have plans for increased roadway capacity, but also new ways to get people out of their cars and out of traffic by encouraging more mass transit. WeGo Public Transit CEO Steve Bland said the key to increasing transit options comes from partnering with state agencies as well as local communities.
“I would say in the last three to five years, we’ve had more collaboration with TDOT and with Metro Public Works than we’ve had, frankly, in history,” Bland said. “Those partnerships have to extend really way beyond that to other entities with common goals.”
In addition to recommending more diverse transportation options, such as buses and transit options, the plan will also include projects to increase mobility for pedestrians and cyclists.
In addition to the 2021 RTP update, the GNRC has also partnered with the cities of Franklin, Brentwood and Nashville, as well as Williamson, Davidson and Maury counties, to launch the South Corridor study, which kicked off earlier this year. The $1 million study will examine if mass transit options could be utilized along I-65, Franklin Road and the CSX railway. Following months of public outreach, the study is expected to have recommendations to present in early 2020, according to Michelle Lacewell, deputy director and chief communications officer for the GNRC.
Officials said the answer to Nashville’s transportation woes will not lie with just one agency and could come in the form of regional partnerships.
“We have to have a much bigger strategy than just funding, the maintenance and keeping up with our bridges and highways. We have to think big, and that’s what this is about,” Lee said. “But we can’t do it independently. No independent agency can do that. And the only way that’s going to happen is if all of the region’s leaders around this subject come together.”