A theme of regional collaboration and “money speaks” emerged at the annual Williamson Inc. transportation summit as the top ways to find regional traffic solutions and fund those solutions, eventually.
According to Spring Hill Mayor Rick Graham, summit keynote speaker Jackie Millet, mayor of Lone Tree, Colorado, delivered a presentation, that mirrors what is occurring in Williamson County, regarding growth, economy, housing, and of course, traffic.
“A lot of what the mayor said today is so reflective of us,” Graham said. “The same collaboration is needed and the same regional approach is needed. It just goes on and on, everything she said resonates with what our next steps are.”
The summit took place at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs, a hotel in an area that some might say is the epicenter of traffic congestion in Williamson County.
With cars zooming by, the square area of Cool Springs, houses national corporate headquarters, a slew of hotels, new mixed-use developments and retail and shopping, including the CoolSprings Galleria mall. Some might even say that the area is ripe for the future site of a light rail station.
Millet explained during her presentation how Lone Tree approached such issues of growth, development and transportation with the top solutions being the implementation of light rail, rapid bus transit and tackling key road improvement projects. She also addressed the importance of connectivity in walking and bike lanes between community gathering areas like parks and shopping.
Williamson, Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen said he invited Millet to speak because of the similarities between Lone Tree and Williamson County.
“We chose Lone Tree because it’s a suburban community with large employment centers and similar demographics to Williamson County,” Largen said.
However, Largen emphasized, agreeing with Millet, that there is no "silver bullet" solution.
The summit aptly coincides with the ongoing South Corridor Study, which serves to collect input from the community to help find feasible solutions to improve the way people get around in Williamson County and the region.
Lone Tree, which sits just outside of Denver, has been able to successfully anchor itself as a major hub in the Denver region drawing revenue, managing growth and planning for its future.
According to Millet that's no accident.
With a population of only 15,000, Millet said Lone Tree “packs a lot of punch,” in transportation services and community amenities.
“Light rail expanded in Denver, and we wanted to be a part of it,” she said.
“The key to our success was acknowledgement that we had to be a part of a regional solution ... Transportation investments are extremely important."
Five light rail stations connect Lone Tree with greater region
Since 2006, Millet has seen five light rail stations constructed in the relatively small city of Lone Tree, founded in 1995.
Much like Williamson County in close proximity to Music City, Lone Tree welcomes a large number of commuters traveling to work during each day from Douglas County and the surrounding area. In the daylight hours, Lone Tree’s population doubles to 30,000, Millet said. Williamson County attracts almost 50,000 commuters each day from nearby Davidson County.
Lone Tree’s five light rail stations transport people to and from work and between community gathering spots and are located within close proximity to the city’s major employment centers.
“Collaboration, collaboration, and money speaks,” was the key advice Millet bestowed upon the room filled with hundreds of Williamson County business leaders, elected officials and community stakeholders at the summit.
Most of all “money speaks,” she said. Millet believes if the city had not raised money, primarily by revenue collections, on its own for transportation solutions, such as light rail, the government would not have been so willing to partner in funding.
Millet said that the community invested $13.5 million, through revenues such as sales tax, to ultimately attract $330 million in outside partner (public and private) contributions, leading to an increased assessed community value of $700 million.
Millet cited four primary funding sources for the transportation initiative in Lone Tree: city sales tax, partial county sales tax and property taxes, the master developer of the projects, Denver South (an economic development agency) as well as an additional land donation for light rail projects.
She added that that city also voted to include itself as part of the Denver regional transportation area, which is also a taxing entity, which she said was also important to its success.
She said the five light rail stations took two decades to complete.
If the community had not focused on building retail revenues and constructing community meeting spots like a performing arts center, a retail resort, or mall, which draws 20 million people per year and other community amenities, its transportation funding story might be different, Millet implied.
“Retail brings you money, rooftops don’t,” she said.
“If we had just become a residential community, we would not have been able to provide all of those (transportation) services.”
Millet also emphasized to adequately plan and fund transportation projects, partnerships, community buy-in and support from local mayors are essential.
“Local support from mayors are even more important than [state] support from the governor,” Millet said.
Luckily, Franklin Mayor Ken Moore currently serves as chairman of the Greater Nashville Regional Council, while Graham serves as the vice chairman of the policy board of Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and County Mayor Rogers Anderson also serves on the board.
Graham said instead of “reinventing the wheel” it helps to look to see where other communities are being successful, like Lone Tree.
Largen said there are many solutions to transportation, including changing behaviors such as implementing flex work scheduling, ride sharing and carpooling to destinations.
“It’s not a silver bullet,” Largen said. “It’s not a single fix.”
However, funding such transportation initiatives, Franklin Alderman Bev Burger said could be difficult with the county dedicating such a large portion (two-thirds) of its budget to fund public schools.
"Lone Tree is its own taxing authority [like Franklin Special School District] for schools," Burger said. "The money doesn't come out of the county. This is what drains our county. We are at 65 percent [school funding from the county budget]."
Largen encouraged summit attendees to participate in the South Corridor Study and to make "your voices heard."
The South Corridor Study is being conducted by partners, including Greater Nashville Regional Council (GNRC), WeGo Public Transit and the Tennessee Department of Transportation to help turn recent transportation plans into shovel ready projects that can modernize area roadways and address growing traffic congestion and safety concerns. For more information or to find a drop-in site, visit southcorridor.org.