All AMPed Up (and nowhere to go)

The atmosphere surrounding the AMP changes more often than Nashville’s winter weather. It’s warm one day, freezing the next, and, depending on which side one stands, sunny … or cloudy. Or all of the above during the same day.
     The latest change in the forecast comes from the opposition to the Bus Rapid Transit system, Mayor Karl Dean’s signature mass transit endeavor. The opposition, creatively calling its collective self “Stop AMP,” recently had what they were hoping would a sunny day for their side. In February, State Sen. Jim Tracy, the head of the Senate Transportation Committee, announced he would add language to the upcoming transportation budget blocking any spending on BRT services that use a state highway.
     Stating that, “We need to provide highways and bridges for economic development,” the senator appeared to make his position clear when it comes to what’s needed for economic development. More cars. A position supported wholeheartedly by Lee Beaman, who contributes financially to both Senator Tracy’s campaign war chest as well as the Stop AMP coalition. Oh, and who happened to make his fortune selling cars, for those of you who just moved to town.
     The fact that a car dealership magnate is the primary fountain from which financial support flows for a coalition opposing a mass transportation project is clearly a case of reality trumps fiction where irony is concerned. Whether or not the folks who are angling to kill the beast before it’s born succeed remains to be seen, however.
     There was a time when TDOT never saw a new lane of highway it didn’t like, but the light of reality is finally beginning to penetrate the thick layer of asphalt that once covered its every dream. Population projections are beginning to convince even the most die-hard pave-our-way-out-of-traffic proponents that without getting real about mass transit Middle Tennessee will resemble a parking lot by 2030.
     Which could be why Senator Tracy doesn’t oppose funding for TDOT to perform a feasibility study for a monorail line from Murfreesboro (his district) to downtown Nashville—introduced by Senator Bill Ketron as Senate Bill 2515. Given the traffic along the southeast corridor, one could surmise that even a multi-lane aficianado like Senator Tracy would support an alternative to sitting in his car on I-24 during rush hour.
     More to the point, TDOT will more than likely go where the federal funding goes. This isn’t a new concept for them; for decades interstate highways have relied on federal matching dollars. If it weren’t for that, and the speed limit mandates that accompany the money, our ever-vigilant protectors of freedom in the State Capital would probably introduce legislation to remove all speed restrictions on the interstates because they infringe upon personal liberty.

     As for the AMP, even an opponent attending a recent community comment session in Richland Park admitted that Nashville’s mass transit infrastructure “should’ve been dealt with 30 years ago.”
     Not that the AMP isn’t without shortcomings. Even its most avid supporters have disagreements amongst themselves. But thus far, the AMP’s design team has been engaging with the community in a proactive way, and they continue to incorporate this feedback into their plans.
     At a recent workshop at the East Precinct, a small group of area residents tried to hash out how the terminus at the end of Main Street would look. Did everyone agree? No. Was it productive. Yes.
     So, as Nashville’s planners move forward with their goals of urban density, the crowd that seems to believe roads and bridges are the path to urban nirvana will keep trying to kick the proverbial can down the road. Maybe it would be better to wait; why spend $135 million today when we can spend a billion or two for the same thing in a decade, right?
     For now, and at least for the near future, expect more winter weather for the Bus Rapid Transit line. In the meantime keep in mind that old cliché: “It ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings.”