The Tennessee Department of Transportation launched an 18-month analysis of Interstate 65, the latest in a handful of regional congestion studies. The agency is looking for ideas on improving travel times and planning for a much busier future commute along the developing corridor.
Idea No. 1: more public transit.
That is what commuters and officials say needs to happen along I-65 and it needs to happen fast.
Running 120 miles through Tennessee from Alabama to Kentucky the expressway is widely considered the spine of the state. But as people flock to developments in Cool Springs and Brentwood, officials like Joann Graves, former Gallatin Mayor and Executive Director of the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, are urging the state agency to expand its playbook.
“The only solution is to look at some kind of public transportation system,” Graves says. “From my perspective and I think a lot of people in this room, we need TDOT to engage more with transit and not just talk about roads and bridges.”
At the first public meeting for the project, representatives from the Tennessee Department of Transportation explained that, in fact, there is plenty of capacity on I-65 during off peak hours. And to better manage the corridor the agency is looking at all types of strategies for easing congestion along the interstate: From more lanes, to bus rapid transit, to van pools, to encouraging more companies to allow telecommuting.
Still, folks kept coming back, again and again, to the regions anemic infrastructure for public transit. Scott Foster, the mayor of Hendersonville, says TDOT needs to look at places like Denver, Colorado, with its light rail system.
“I have about 35,000 people that commute downtown every morning,” Foster says. “It’s critical. It’s critical, that we decide to do something more ingenious than adding another lane of traffic.”
But TDOT’s spokeswoman, BJ Doughty, says while the agency is here to help, it’s not in the business of public transit.
“Our job is to get people around the entire state,” Doughty says. “Not to get people 20 miles into Nashville.”
This week, TDOT is conducting the second of three public meetings on the I-65 study. The final meeting is scheduled for November 15 at the Williamson County Public Library.