The price isn’t right

Nashville’s best transit option is also its cheapest––but it’s not cheap enough

Transportation Management News The Tennessean December 13, 2011
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Nashville is trying to solve its congestion problems by adding bus rapid transit (BRT), but the $136 million price tag is a serious stumbling block with the city’s tight financial situation, the Tennessean reported.


A steering committee agreed Monday that the city should begin planning a BRT system. The committee cites the Broadway-West End Corridor Study in its choice of BRT instead of modern streetcars, Nashville’s only other feasible transit method. The study found that streetcars would cost twice as much without substantially increasing ridership.


“I think bus rapid transit is by far the most compelling case that we’ve heard—a savings of $130 million over streetcars, having the same level of ridership and giving us more options,” said Mayor Karl Dean, who has been pushing BRT since his first campaign in 2007, after the study’s preliminary findings were presented.


Before the study presentation got under way, Dean indicated that predictions of rising populations and lack of good public transportation would put the city at an economic disadvantage to its peers.


The study by consultants from Parsons Brinckerhoff, a New York-based international planning firm with an office in Nashville, said bus rapid transit would cost $136 million to implement. It would draw 4,500 riders a day initially and 7,560 after 20 years.


A streetcar system would cost $275 million to start. It would have 4,800 daily riders in the first year and 7,977 in 20 years.


Parsons Brinckerhoff said that the corridor where the BRT would run serves 170,000 employees and 25,000 residents, with many businesses, hospitals, sports venues, parks, government centers and houses of worship. Those numbers are expected to increase 10% and 24%, respectively, by the year 2035, and traffic is projected to increase by 50% during that time.


How the system would be paid for––including the amount of federal and state funding Metro would be able to obtain to offset the city’s cost––is not yet clear. But bus rapid transit is the system with the best shot at winning federal support, Dean and others said.


Paul Skoutelas, transit market director for Parsons Brinckerhoff, said the study followed the prescribed federal process so the project can qualify for federal funding. Dean said the city also could seek assistance from the private sector.


Next steps include a final decision on the preferred route, deciding how to pay for the system, more public meetings, and detailed engineering and environmental analyses.

Dean, who leaves office in the summer of 2015, said he hopes to see a bus rapid transit line in place by then. He said other parts of the city would be “crying out” for similar service once the system got started, and the dedicated bus lane would eventually “change the way this city operates.”


Nashville already has a limited BRT line with fewer stops than a typical bus, but no dedicated lane or signal-changing technology.



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