By EMILY R. WEST
Partisan leanings aside, there’s one issue the candidates running for the state house agree on – traffic is the biggest concern facing Williamson County.
Other than the easy talking points – Mack Hatcher Parkway, state highway widening efforts and lack of mass transit – the candidates touched on what they would like to see happen Tuesday morning at Conversation and Coffee with WAKM. The Williamson Herald also moderated the questioning.
Williamson County would need $457 million to complete its current road and bridge projects. Gas tax conversations have also become a point of contention for the past several years. Untouched since the 1980s, the legislature hasn’t raised it.
Because Tennessee is “a pay as you go” state, the gas tax primarily funds road projects. Without additional funding, the state could risk falling further behind on road projects.
So far, the Williamson delegation has been flatly opposed to raising the gas tax, but some of their opinions have evolved in 2016.
Here’s what the candidates think. They are listed in the order WAKM interviewed them during Conversation and Coffee:
Glen Casada – Republican incumbent candidate for District 63
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has rolled out needs and as we know, even those of us who commute have needs in Williamson County, as well. The governor and commissioner are working on what’s their solution to sustainable funding source.
That will be the heart of the discussion. I support a stable funding source for road expansion, and we will play off of that.
The gas tax hasn’t been touched in close to 30 years, and so it’s because of the dramatic increase in fuel efficiency, road construction and the federal government cutting back on roads that we aren’t on pace. We have to maintain what we have, and that’s what I think we need to look at.
There’s always other options and I want to listen to what the commissioner and the governor roll out. They may have come to thoughts and solutions I haven’t, and I want to see what’s coming and what’s proposed.
Holly McCall – Democratic challenger for District 65
Nine out of every 10 people who have a comment when I knock on doors mention traffic as their number one concern. It depends on the area you live in. They mention Mack Hatcher in Franklin. In Spring Hill they talk about Highway 31. In Fairview, it’s Highway 100. In Spring Hill, they said they would use public transit if there was a more efficient way to get them to their offices in Cool Springs or downtown Nashville.
When you think about transit and roads, it’s going to take four or five different angles to get it solved. No one is going to give their car up. Our infrastructure is suffering, but TDOT is doing a great job so we have to focus on our roads. We also do have to look at better public transit. That’s not going to happen over night. We also have to talk about the first or last mile connection. Even if we get park and rides for public transit – how do those people get home or to the park and rides without clogging up the roads?
Sam Whitson – Republican challenger for District 65
I have had a good discussion with our TDOT commissioner. We have to find a dedicated funding solution. For every county that has a Mack Hatcher, you have to think there are 95 counties that all have their own projects they want done.
In knocking on all these doors since January, it was the number one issued raised by constituents. In Spring Hill, they have some great ideas, and what they have done is they have purchased right-of-way away. And right now, we have some shovel-ready projects if we can solve the long-term sustainable funding.
I am looking forward to seeing the governor’s plan, and I look forward to working with him and his administration.
Courtenay Rogers – Democratic challenger for District 63
The traffic has gotten substantially worse. From this exit we are at now, we used to get here to Nashville in maybe 20 to 25 minutes. But now it takes 45 minutes most mornings. Growth is great, but it has be strategic and balanced. We have to make it a priority and fight to get the funding.
I actually agree with what Glen Casada said last week about raising the gas tax. I couldn’t agree more. We have to get creative. I was recently reading up on what Denver did. They treated it like a business, and there are different ways to get people to invest in transportation issues. It’s opening up the conversation and being open minded. A good idea is a good idea no matter who comes up with it.
We have got to stop being one sided in District 63 and listen to everyone.