2016 Look Ahead: Reducing traffic and accommodating growth


2016 Look Ahead: Reducing traffic and accommodating growth

BY SAMANTHA HEARN, AMBER STEWART AND QUINT QUALLS

Addressing the rapidly growing population and sequential traffic increase will be a hot topic of 2016 for Williamson County leaders.

Addressing the rapidly growing population and sequential traffic increase will be a hot topic of 2016 for Williamson County leaders.

The county is expected to double in size in the next 20 years, leading to a population of more than 400,000 residents and creating a need for improvements to public transportation.

County Mayor Rogers Anderson hosted a summit in Brentwood earlier this year to address county transportation needs in response to accelerated growth.

The ‘Williamson Moves’ summit was held at the Tractor Supply Headquarters and gave attendees the opportunity to interact with guest speakers from peer communities and local businesses, as well as state and national featured guests.

Gov. Bill Haslam opened the summit and voiced his concerns of taking on debt to pay for new infrastructure in the face of limited federal funding.

Among states, Tennessee spends the third-least amount of money per road in the nation, and $450 million of road projects are expected to occur in 2016.

Pam Kordenbrock, the Tennessee Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, explained at the Summit that only 24 percent of roads in Tennessee are eligible for federal funding, most of those being high volume roads like interstates.

However, interstates represent only one percent of more than 4 million miles of public roads. More than half of highway funds at the state level came from the federal government in 2014, and 14 percent came from the state. Sixty percent of state funds come from fuel taxes.

Kordenbrock explained the Federal Highway Administration approves projects for federal funding, but they do not choose them, leaving that decision to the state.

A penny in tax would bring in $31 million

Gasoline tax in Tennessee is 9 cents per gallon lower than the national average. A 1 cent increase in gas taxes would cost an average of $7.50 per year per user, but would bring almost $31 million in revenue to the state, which is a 17.5 percent increase.

Williamson Inc. CEO and President Matt Largen reported in March that 58 percent of surveyed business professionals in the community would support a tax increase to help fund some form of public transportation.

According to Largen, the Chamber is looking to continue building relationships in order to tackle Williamson County’s transportation problem.

“I feel like we’re successful when we reflect the needs of the business community, and there is no bigger need than in transportation. How do we play a leadership role in alleviating congestion in Williamson County and coming up with a vision and a solution that provides some sort of road map to make sure we have a great transportation system?”

Largen said traffic congestion is bad for business.

“It limits the company’s ability to recruit outside of a certain radius. All of a sudden, a company’s labor pool shrinks.”

The quality of life for Williamson workers also suffers with increased congestion. The effect can be especially bad in places like Williamson County that advertise as “family friendly,” because it is difficult to spend time with the family when stuck in traffic.

Largen said much of 2016’s effort will be spent developing a “mobility week,” which will help companies share best practices in flex scheduling and remote working to help keep cars off the road during rush hour.

Solutions to gridlock

Franklin Mayor Ken Moore addressed transportation funding at the local level during the transportation summit, saying the beauty of the Williamson County community is threatened by its own success and growth.

He said 50 percent of the people surveyed in a parks survey earlier in 2015 support the dedication of taxes to mass transit, and local government must play an increasingly significant role in working with the federal government.

“In 2035, we’ll be in a gridlock if we don’t address the issues now surrounding public transit,” he said. “The predictions of doing nothing are pretty bleak.”

Williamson County has the lowest unemployment rate in Tennessee, with employment having increased more than 25 percent in the last five years alone.

According to a report released this spring by Williamson Inc., the county is expected to reach 146,260 jobs by 2040, with nearly 55 percent of Williamson’s workforce living within county boundaries. About 23,000 local workers currently commute to work in Williamson from Davidson County.

In December, The Metropolitan Planning Organization revealed its draft 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, with 20 Williamson County transportation projects being financed thanks to $8.5 billion in federal funding being allocated to roadways throughout Middle Tennessee.

If the current draft of the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan is adopted, major roadway improvements will be made to U.S. Highway 31, Mack Hatcher Parkway, Franklin Pike, Wilson Pike, Nolensville Pike, Duplex Road and many others.

The MPO executive board voted to endorse the draft plan at its annual joint meeting earlier this month, initiating the “stakeholder engagement process.”

A public review and comment period will precede the adoption hearings, which are earmarked for February 2016.

The MPO plays a major role in setting priorities for the use of federal highway funds. Congress recently passed a $305 billion, five-year funding plan for roads, bridges and transit that should help with planning at the state and local levels.

In particular, the MPO is proposing to dedicate $3.2 billion to roadway capacity expansion, which includes roadway extensions and additional lanes on interstates, state routes and other federal-aid streets.

The 2040 plan also recommends another $1 billion go toward roadway reconstruction and multi-modal upgrades.

Improving secondary roads

One of the foremost Williamson County expansions in the plan is the widening of the entirety of U.S. 31 stretching 10.7 miles from Downs Boulevard in Franklin to Miles Johnson Parkway in Spring Hill.

The north-south transportation and transit corridor, which includes U.S. 31, is one of the MPO’s nine major capital projects labeled as a “top priority for funding.” Based on the availability of funding, projects were scheduled for either a short-term (2016-2020), mid-term (2021-2030) or long-term (2031-2040) horizon.

The U.S. 31 widening from Downs Boulevard to Mack Hatcher Parkway is in the short-term planning horizon, Buckner Road to Miles Johnson Parkway is set for the mid-term and the 7.8 miles of U.S. 31 between Mack Hatcher Parkway and Buckner Road is on the long-term horizon.

Other short-term projects around Williamson County include the widening of Franklin Road between Concord Road and Moore’s Lane, the widening of I-65 between state Route 840 and Saturn Parkway, the reconstruction of Duplex Road and the widening of Nolensville Pike from Old Hickory Boulevard to Burkitt Road.

In the short-term, the MPO plan also funds the northwest extension of Mack Hatcher Parkway from Hillsboro Road and the widening of 18.5 miles of State Route 96 from Arno Road to Overall Creek near Murfreesboro.

Mid-term projects include the Buckner Lane widening in Spring Hill from Duplex Road to Thompson’s Station Road, the reconstruction of Wilson Pike in Brentwood from Church Street to Concord Road and the realignment of Beechcroft Road at Main Street in Spring Hill and reconstruction to Dr. Robinson Road.

The Mack Hatcher Parkway widening from Murfreesboro Road to Polk Place Drive in Franklin and the reconstruction of Port Royal Road from Saturn Parkway to Duplex Road in Spring Hill are both included in the 2031-2040 planning horizon.

The 2040 Regoinal Transportation Plan proposes to fund approximately 200 “cost-feasible improvements” in the Middle Tennessee region within the next 25 years, but the plan indicates another 100 projects labeled as “illustrative needs” that cannot presently be funded.

Even though Tennessee has the third-best roads in the United States and yet spends the third least amount of money of any department of transportation in the nation, its infrastructure will not be able to handle the sharply increasing traffic congestion brought on by economic growth.

In order to shore up financial shortfalls so Middle Tennessee can address more of its transportation challenges, the MPO recommends that legislators at all levels of government consider a more progressive gasoline tax, a distance-based or vehicle-miles-travelled tax, roadway tolls and local taxes dedicated to public transit.

The full plan is available online at 2040.NashvilleMPO.org for public review and comment. The MPO is encouraging the community to participate in the design and engineering of proposed improvements by sending comments to comment@nashvillempo.org.

Samantha Hearn, Amber Stewart and Quint Qualls report for Home Page Media Group. They can be reached via email at samantha@brentwoohomepage.com, amber@brentwoodhomepage.com and quint@springhillhomepage.com.

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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