Franklin Tomorrow’s FrankTalks Monday morning featured an update on the South Corridor Study — a project dedicated to surveying Davidson, Williamson and Maury counties to provide public transportation solutions to the ever-growing area.
Around 100 people gathered at the First Presbyterian Church in Franklin to hear Senior Supervising Planner at WSP Nashville Doug Delaney and Deputy Director at the Greater Nashville Regional Council Michelle Lacewell talk about the timeline of the study and some of the results from their data-gathering phase.
Delaney mentioned that existing organizations with their hands already in transportation like WSP, GNRC, WeGo Public Transit and the Tennessee Department of Transportation have all worked together with the communities to devise a rapid transit plan for the Middle Tennessee area.
“We’re looking at a whole list of different transit modes — everything from a conventional bus to BRT (bus rapid transit) to light rail to commuter rail,” Delaney said. “We’re also trying to pair that and work cooperatively to identify how that transit connects with existing and planned roadways or intersections or (interchanges) … within the corridor or emerging technology that might be able to be used in the immediate future and in the long term to address traffic and congestion in this corridor.”
Delaney explained that since April, the South Corridor Study group has conducted surveys and gathered public input as well as conducted research to transition into the current stage — evaluation. Current points of interest for continued study and possible change are Interstate 65, U.S. 31 and the CSX Railroad.
He presented some of the study’s survey results, sharing that 99% of participating corridor residents travel by car and nearly half (48%) travel throughout the region multiple times a day — 2/3 traveling for work and 1/3 traveling for entertainment or shopping. Preferences for rapid transit were split: 60% preferred a light rail option and 52% preferred bus rapid transit and/or a commuter rail.
Delaney said these options are being considered because of the projected doubling of the population over the next 20 years and because of current congestion issues. He said, not only are residents expected to increase by 76% and jobs by 81%, but driving time will likely increase by 113%.
Delaney listed travel times of common cross-county commutes from 2010: 29 minutes from Franklin to Downtown Nashville, expected to increase to 59 minutes by 2040; 36 minutes from Spring Hill to Downtown Nashville, expected to rise to 64; and 20 minutes from Spring Hill to Franklin, expected to rise to 36. He said people often tell him they already experience the inflated times.
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore spoke up to say he indeed thinks these numbers are inaccurate, and he also challenged the South Corridor group, as they craft their recommendations for the region, to think outside the box and tailor their solutions to the uniqueness of the corridor.
“You’re looking for similar recommendations in this corridor (from) what you did in the other corridors. This corridor is totally different than the other corridors,” Moore said. “I think the citizens along this corridor are looking for different types of solutions, more imagination than just the same old routine. I would challenge you, as you are moving forward, that you spend a day on Franklin transit and make sure you have the input of those citizens. Sixty percent of the ridership is going to work, and so we’d like to know how to expand.”
Some of the solutions suggested by the FrankTalks attendees were utilizing gaps between freight loads along the CSX Railroad to transport passengers, modifying I-65 so that not all onramps merge right away, and developing raised platforms for transit.
Franklin Alderman Beverly Burger also suggested using technology to better utilize the HOV lanes on the interstate.
“With new emerging technologies, you can actually be travelling in those lanes, and the lights can come on and say, ‘Move out of the lane.’ You move out of the lane, rapid transit goes straight forward, and then you get to move back in that lane and utilize that lane,” Burger said.
Delaney explained the study group is discussing these kinds of options with TDOT and keeping an eye on the department’s current SMART Corridor Project on Interstate 24 to see what kinds of solutions could be similarly applied to I-65.
Doreen Zientar, who faced a commute from Williamson to Davidson County prior to her retirement, suggested that, regardless of the type of transportation solutions implemented in the region, residents should change their mindset when it comes to public transit.
“When I worked in Downtown Nashville, I took the RTA buses. Of course, they gave us all the ones that Henry Ford came (out with),” she joked. “We did not get the really great transit buses, but it was so convenient — when there was a traffic problem, you could read, socialize, sleep, whatever. And I think we need to educate our population as to the advantages of a commute (in public transit) before we can have them actually accepting and using, whether it’s a commuter bus, light rail, regular rail or whatever.”
She added that, when there are traffic jams that can’t be avoided, being able to focus on other things while riding the bus helped her not to arrive at her destination frustrated by the drive.
Some, however, voiced concern that they would be forced to pay tax money for public transportation options and developments they don’t want in the first place.
Lacewell said this is why the study exists and why community engagement is so important.
“This is a study; this is not a project that we’re putting in front of your plate and asking you to pay for,” Lacewell said. “This is an opportunity for everyone across the region to tell us what they want as the best way for them to get across the region.
“We have a challenge on a regular basis with people telling us they don’t want things to change, and they don’t want … the region to grow. However, if you are a parent, you’ve probably asked your children to have grandchildren. Those are new humans that are part of the population growth, so it’s not always an option to control growth. However, it’s an option to manage it.”
Williamson County citizens will have a chance to voice their preferences for transportation solutions at two upcoming South Corridor Study public meetings. The first will be Tuesday, Aug. 27 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the John P. Holt Brentwood Library. The second will be Wednesday, Aug. 28 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Brookdale Senior Living facility on Murfreesboro Road in Franklin.
For more information on the South Corridor Study, visit southcorridor.org or follow the study on social media at @SouthCorridorStudy on Facebook and Instagram and @SouthCorridor on Twitter.