Urban Design & Transportation Practice Builder Troy Russ with Kimley Horn, speaks at the Williamson County Transportation Summit on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017/ /Photo by Brooke Wanser.
By BROOKE WANSER
It seemed like good timing that Nashville Mayor Megan Barry announced her $5.2 billion transportation plan on Tuesday, the day before Williamson County’s third annual transportation summit.
Williamson, Inc. Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Matt Largen said the summit began as a county initiative in 2015. “It [transportation] became the number-one constituent issue because of traffic in Williamson County,” he said.
Of the 250 participants who gathered for the business luncheon at the Cool Springs Marriott hotel, many were local leaders and politicians, including current aldermen and candidates and Mayors Rogers Anderson, of Williamson County, and Ken Moore, of Franklin.
Though Moore said he hadn’t had the opportunity to listen to Barry’s full speech about the bold transportation strategy prior to the summit, he said he thought the most significant aspect was how she planned to raise funds. “She’s going to increase the sales tax, rental car tax, and hotel tax,” he said.
“You’re going to get a lot of pushback from the tourism industry and insurance companies that are renting cars for their people who have wreck and car repairs,” he cautioned. “We’re not at a point in this corridor to understand what our funding sources will be,” he said.
In speaking of what is already being done, Moore pointed to the Franklin Transit Authority’s expansion of service and routes. “One of the things her [Barry’s] plan does is increase the robustness of the bus service in Nashville.”
To open the conversation inside the convention room, Largen presented an “annual check-up:” Improvements to transportation woes include bringing food trucks and catered meals to workplaces for lunch, vanpools through the TMA Group, increased service areas along the Franklin bus route, and the passage of the IMPROVE Act. Federal funding under this act will bring tens of millions of dollars to projects along Columbia Avenue, Murfreesboro Road and Mack Hatcher Parkway.
And, said Largen, over $140 million in transportation construction projects have been completed in Franklin during the past five years.
Speaking of the county’s soon-to-begin southern corridor study, Largen pointed out the importance of the results to the entire area: “No two counties are more connected in Tennessee than Davidson and Williamson County,” he said. “We share the same work force.”
Largen mentioned a recent chamber trip to Denver, where community leaders learned about the necessity of high-volume transit in a community with many parallels to the Nashville suburbs.
Williamson County leaders then heard from Troy Russ, an urban designer and transportation practice builder with Kimley Horn and Associates.
Russ worked with Louisville, a Colorado town near Denver, to help develop a bus rapid transit system from Denver to Boulder.
“Boulder was unique, but it’s not unique to this city and this country,” Russ said.
He challenged Tennesseans: “As you embark on your southern corridor transit study, what are your measures of success? If it’s for the bus to go as fast as it can from Davidson County to Williamson County, I would say it now, you will fail,” he warned.
“If it is to create a better Franklin and Williamson County at the expense of bus mobility, it’s ok, because you will get a better community out of it.”
He finished, “You need to manage where the stations go and how many stations come in here, but do it based on community, not on transit mobility.”
In a brainstorming session prior to keynote oration, individuals were asked to pair up and think of ideas for how to make transit fun and entertaining.
Some ideas included musical roller coasters and animated people movers. “Make it fun, make it visually appealing, make it attractive,” said Franklin City Administrator Eric Stuckey.
The event was partially sponsored by Nissan, whose director of electrical vehicle marketing and sales strategy Brian Maragno spoke about their latest features on their electric models.
Mark Cleveland, the co-founder and chief executive officer of carpooling app Hytch, spoke about the need for getting fewer cars on the road. “We think that rewards work,” he said, pointing out that the app gives points that can be redeemed for monetary rewards to people who carpool together.
Cleveland acknowledged current plans to build more comprehensive infrastructure to handle transportation needs, but said carpooling along less constricted routes was a good alternative.
“It might be as simple as putting the money where people can be rewarded directly,” he said.