What’s Really Going On With The Amp?

The Amp is expected to run in dedicated bus lanes, though Mayor Karl Dean recently scaled back that proposal. Image via the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee

The Amp is expected to run in dedicated bus lanes, though Mayor Karl Dean recently scaled back that proposal. Image via the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee

Most people casually watching the proposals and counter-proposals in the state legislature to restrict or quash the Amp get mired under the details. Reasonably so. Even under the bill that, after much wrangling, finally passed both chambers, there are different takes on what the legislation portends for the project. Here’s a break own of some of the basics.

Does the bill kill the Amp? No. But it makes the project’s next phase more complicated. In essence, the bill now awaiting the governor’s signature says if the state gives the Amp any money, the process doesn’t change. The state will have to approve the transportation budget with the Amp funds as they would without this new bill. But if the state refuses to give the Amp any money, both the Senate and the House will have to pass a resolution blessing the project. Given the Republican super-majority did not seem receptive to mass transit this session, this approval next year would not be likely.

So this all boils down to whether the state gives the Amp money or not. Does the Amp need state support? Originally, Amp planners said they’d need $35 million from the state in order to afford the project’s $174 million price tag. This is not necessarily the case anymore. Since Mayor Karl Dean announced scaling back the dedicated lane, millions of dollars are expected to be trimmed from the project’s cost. What’s more, transit officials suspected state lawmakers would push back, though the level of resistance took them by surprise. They’ve been quietly working on a Plan B. Although they won’t reveal specifics, they say they have a strategy to fund the project without state money.

Is the federal funding in jeopardy? The original proposal sought to make 80 percent of the route with dedicated, bus-only lines, which is critical to keeping the bus fast and predictable. Since Mayor Dean scaled those back, it’s now around 60 percent. To keep the federal support, the project needs to have dedicated lanes for 50 percent of the route, so any attempt to step back further could throw the federal funds into question. To be sure, federal officials are not unfamiliar with resistance to BRT lines. The BRT skeptics in Chicago voice concerns not all that different than the detractors in Nashville.

What’s the best case scenario for the Amp right now? One scenario is that transit officials devise a plan including some state funding. It’ll probably have to be a sum lower than what they’re currently asking for to make it palatable to state lawmakers. But, under the current legal landscape, that would avoid the tallest barrier: convincing both chambers to bless the project.

What’s the Stop Amp Coalition’s strategy going forward? They’re not going to stop fighting. Rick Williams, the spokesman for the group fueled by car dealership mogul Lee Beaman, says he’s now going to embarking on a mission to convince Metro Council that the Amp is a terrible idea. The city, under the current proposal, is on the hook for about $60 million. Come next session, Williams says if the Amp shows progress, he plans on rallying legislators to take more swings at it.

The take-away, then? The Amp is now being re-calibrated, but the most aggressive assaults might be right around the corner.

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