Metro Council approved Mayor Karl Dean's capital improvement budget, which included initial funding for the AMP, a mass transit system proposed for downtown Nashville.
The AMP, formerly known as the East-West Connector, is a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that is proposed to run 7.1 miles, connecting Five Points in east Nashville to Broadway and West End Avenue and on to the area around St. Thomas Hospital in West Nashville.
Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), along with other supporting transit groups, has been discussing an upgrade to Nashville's current system for several years.
Within the last year, a plan was developed that would “allow residents and visitors to move along the corridor faster than they can in a car stuck in traffic,” according to the MTA.
On Tuesday night, those in support of the plan crowded council chambers, wearing green T-shirts with the words “I'm amped.”
After much discussion, council members failed to pass an amendment that would have deleted BRT from Mayor Dean's capital improvement budget. They also failed to pass an amendment that would have required a feasibility study for the project.
The overall capital spending plan, which included money set aside for the BRT, was approved by council members.
“This vote by the council tonight is a strong statement of support for the project, and that means a lot in the federal application process,” said Ed Cole, Executive Director of The Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee.
The federal application for financial assistance will be crucial to the project. The AMP will cost an estimated $174 million. The plans call for $74 million, or 43% percent, to come from federal funding, $35 million from the state, and the remaining 37% from local dollars.
The money set aside in the approved capital spending plan will allow the project to move forward with the engineering phase and the application process for federal assistance.
However, not everyone at Tuesday's meeting supported the council's decision.
A small grassroots group wants more discussion on the plan. Under the Facebook name BRT Concerns, Inc., the group was started by local business professionals, property owners, and residents of the West End corridor. Their rally cry is “Stop BRT – Save West End.”
Jason Harsem, a 6-year-resident of the West End area, was among the group wearing “Stop BRT” stickers in council chambers.
“A lot of our citizens right here on West End and around West End, they feel like they didn't even know that this was happening,” Harsem said.
The AMP proposal calls for a concrete median and two lanes of traffic dedicated to buses and emergency vehicles only. Lanes that currently allow parking along West End Avenue would be changed to traffic lanes. Left turns would be restricted to areas where signals are present, which means motorists may have to make U-turns to access homes or businesses.
Harsem and others claim they are not against mass transit, but the proposed changes have them concerned about the impact to vehicle traffic, residential streets, and business access.
“We really believe that mass transit is the future of Nashville,” said Harsem. “We'd just like to discuss it more. Instead of running through it and having something approved right off the bat. We really want to go ahead and come to the table and hear discussion, so we make a solid decision.”
When asked about the traffic concerns, Cole told Nashville's News 2, “Some people will be riding the AMP that won't be driving. But we'll also be making traffic improvements, signal improvements, turning improvements (so) that West End will actually function better with the AMP than if we actually did nothing.”
“I think it's important that we spend some time now in some open honest communication about those facts,” Cole added.
If funded, construction will begin in 2015, with rapid transit service beginning in 2016.
For more information about the proposed transit plans, visit Nashville MTA – The AMP.
- Dec. 12, 2011: Mayor unveils mass transit proposals
- June 20, 2011: MTA plans for improvements along West End corridor
- May 25, 2011: Nashville connector to bridge racial divide
- June 20, 2011: Nashville among worst cities for traffic congestion