By RACHAEL LONG / Photos by Rachael Long
Sixty Brentwood residents turned out to give their feedback, thoughts and concerns at the South Corridor Study meeting Thursday night at the John P. Holt Brentwood Library.
The goal of the study, which will conclude sometime this fall, was to gather as much community input as possible from the residents who would be most affected by the future of transportation in Nashville’s south corridor. Local leaders, planners and residents gathered Thursday to discuss ideas about what would — and would not work.
The Brentwood meeting was the third of four planned South Corridor Study meetings. The first two were similarly attended, as WSP’s Hope Weaver said the Columbia meeting saw 68 residents and the Franklin meeting, 84.
“It’s important to have those conversations now when we’re already experiencing some of those effects of growth, but to plan for the future, as well,” WSP’s Doug Delaney said. “So, as part of our efforts, we’re going to be looking at a number of transportation solutions…this is the input we’re looking for from you all, as well, is what makes the most sense for this corridor?”
Nashville’s south corridor, which starts in Nashville and runs south into the heart of Columbia, is among the state’s most trafficked routes, with hundreds of thousands of residents traveling on I-65 alone daily. As the population of Williamson County continues to explode, growing by well over 45,000 since 2010, government leaders have sometimes struggled to keep the infrastructure up to pace.
The months-long study is spearheaded by the Greater Nashville Regional Council (GNRC); an infrastructure planning organization made up of local leaders representing 13 Middle Tennessee counties, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Transportation and WeGo Public Transit, formally known as the Regional Transportation Authority of Middle Tennessee. The GNRC has recruited the aid of WSP USA – an engineering firm – to conduct the study at a cost of $1,000,000.
Through WSP USA’s early research, they’ve projected Nashville’s south corridor will, by 2040, increase in population by 76 percent, see roadway volume increase by 86 percent, and time spent driving increase by 113 percent.
Solutions to the growing traffic problem, Delaney said, could be anything from upgrades to roadways to light rail to bus routes and other mass transit options.
Many Brentwood residents have historically expressed concern and disdain for the implementation of a light rail system, but WSP Senior Planner Emery Hartz said some type of regional mass transit is not an all-or-nothing situation.
“We can just glide by Brentwood,” Hartz said. “If [residents] don’t want a stop here, there doesn’t have to be one. If this turns into be a connection from other areas that are just going through Brentwood, we can do that, you know? There are options.”
Hartz said the South Corridor team knew the response from Brentwood residents would be the “biggest question mark” because of the fear that mass transit could bring development. But Hartz said zoning and other policies can be put in place to avoid development, if desired.
Brentwood residents Dottie and Milton Grief attended Thursday’s informational event and shared their thoughts and concerns about some of the plans they saw at the meeting.
“We own a farm down in Giles County, so I travel in the opposite direction about four to five days a week,” Milton said. “So I’m coming north when everybody’s going home, going South, and vice versa.”
In the last eight years, Milton said he has seen traffic patterns on Route 31 change drastically. Where he says there used to be a car every now and then on the roadway, now the traffic sits “bumper to bumper” most days.
If they go into downtown Nashville, Dottie said the couple always takes an Uber or some other form of rideshare to avoid driving in the traffic or paying high dollar for parking.
Because his travels to and from the farm in Giles County require the hauling of fertilizer or plants, Milton said the installation of a mass transit system simply wouldn’t suit his transportation needs.
“One of the questions on the [WPS] survey was, ‘When will you use mass transit?’ and I said, ‘When they take my driver’s license away,’” Milton said with a laugh.
Mayor Jill Burgin, who helped secure Brentwood as a location for one of the four study community meetings, said she doesn’t necessarily think most residents are skeptical of a mass transit option if it can help decrease traffic on Brentwood roads.
“I think if it’s along I-65, they’re probably open to it,” Burgin said Thursday. “But we’re going to have to have something if we want cars off the road in front of us…You don’t have to ride the train or the bus or whatever the alternative is, but other people will. And then you’ll have fewer cars in front of you as you’re trying to drive to work. It’s just an alternative, it’s an option.”
For those unable to attend Thursday’s meeting, additional feedback for the study can be provided on the South Corridor Study website here.
The fourth and final South Corridor Study meeting will take place from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, May 6 at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville.