Friday, February 5, 2010

Nashville Mayor Dean to head mass transit group

By Jenny Upchurch • THE TENNESSEAN • February 5, 2010 A new partnership to improve Middle Tennessee's public transportation system was announced Thursday between public and private sectors and between cities and counties. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean will head the group, the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, and called for "a bold vision" that includes more mass transit and more walkable communities. Nashville is trailing cities such as Denver, Austin and Charlotte in the race for new residents and business, he said. On a scale of 10, he said he'd rank Nashville as a four. "This is a wonderful place to live and work," Dean said a news conference Thursday, "but it is not lost on any of us that they are moving ahead of us in transportation." Dean said light rail projects might be part of a regional transportation plan. But there are other options, including bus rapid transit and commuter vans. The crucial factor, he said, will be securing funding. The next few months are crucial as a long-range transportation plan is finished. The 2035 Regional Transportation Plan will be unveiled May 26. It will guide how money, including millions in federal fuel tax revenue, is allotted for Middle Tennessee projects. Michael Skipper, head of the MPO, says the 2035 plan will help Middle Tennessee compete for large grants for transportation projects. Cities like Nashville have faced a catch, he said. To compete for money to build rail lines or bus systems, cities pretty much had to have them in place already. The only cities that benefited were Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Ralph Schulz, the chief of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, says businesses checking out Middle Tennessee for relocation always have one question. What are you doing about transportation? "People work well away from where they live. People shop well away from where they live. And there are the future challenges, that we already see, of energy in scarcity and cost," Schulz said

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