TN House Speaker: Traffic Is Bad, I’m Sitting In It Right Now, But I’m Not Sure We Can Help Nashville’s Bus Proposal

Nashville Republican Beth Harwell controls the speaker's gavel in Tennessee's House of Representatives, giving her a pivotal role over state funding for the city's Bus Rapid Transit proposal. Harwell's not convinced her neighbors near West End are sold on the idea.  Image via capitol.tn.gov

Nashville Republican Beth Harwell controls the speaker’s gavel in Tennessee’s House of Representatives, giving her a pivotal role over state funding for the city’s Bus Rapid Transit proposal. Harwell’s not convinced her neighbors near West End are sold on the idea. Image via capitol.tn.gov

The most powerful Nashvillian in the state legislature is not sold on the Bus Rapid Transit proposal being hyped by the city’s mayor.  The $174 million project is banking on the state for 20 percent of its funding.  Pulling it off would be tough, if not impossible, without support from House Speaker Beth Harwell.

The bus rapid transit line called the Amp would run in a dedicated lane from East Nashville to the edge of Harwell’s district along West End, where she called from a cell phone.

“I haven’t closed my mind to it – I appreciate the mayor looking at what is a problem in Nashville, and that’s West End Avenue.  It is always congested; I’m sitting on it right now.”

Mayor Karl Dean wants the state to kick in some $35 million.  Harwell says getting lawmakers to agree to that won’t be easy.

“I want to be open to the idea, but honestly, that’s a lot of money, and we have a lot of other needs across the state, so I think it would be difficult.”

The proposal for the Amp has cleared the first hurdle on its way to getting federal funding, but neither Harwell nor Gov. Bill Haslam sounded optimistic this month about the state funding Metro officials are hoping to pull down, depicted in this graph released in April.  Image via Metro Transit Authority.

The proposal for the Amp has cleared the first hurdle on its way to getting federal funding, but neither Harwell nor Gov. Bill Haslam sounded optimistic this month about the state funding Metro officials are hoping to pull down, depicted in this graph released in April. Image via Metro Transit Authority.

Some hoping to scuttle the project see its precarious funding as a vulnerability to exploit.  Opponents argue the Amp’s benefits are being oversold, and wouldn’t be worth years of cumbersome roadwork.

When the Metro council approved funding to nudge the project forward earlier this summer, a dissenting group made clear in an email its hope to stymie funding at the state level.

“We need to turn our attention to the state and federal levels of government.  Through our conservations with these leaders, we think we have a good chance to derail the $35 million of state funding…”

To go to bat for the project, Harwell says she’d want buy-in from the neighborhood, which she’s not sure is there.


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