Clemmons Op-Ed on Need for Timely Action on Transit Problem


The Tennessean, 11/30/14

By John Ray Clemmons

We Can't Delay Fixing Nashville's Transit Problem

The recent announcement that Bridgestone Americas is relocating its corporate headquarters to SoBro, complete with 1,700 employees, validates that Nashville's continued growth and economic success show no sign of waning.

The welcome announcement also likely means another 1,700 cars coming into downtown every day. This reinforces the critical need for improved public transit in Nashville and the surrounding region.

Ultimately, the appropriate solution to the looming mass transit problem must be decided by local officials in Nashville and throughout the region. Nashville finds itself entering a year of political transition, and I am concerned that recent events have created the false impression that setting the public transit issue aside until after next year's local elections is acceptable. Mayor Karl Dean's recent announcement regarding funding requests for a proposed bus rapid transit project effectively leaves this unresolved transit problem in the hands of the next mayor and Metro Council, none of whom are clearly stating how — or even if — they will address the issue.

Nashville needs continued leadership and an ongoing commitment to solving this serious local and regional problem. The data does not lie. We are behind the curve on planning for and solving our transportation problems. Progress requires action. We must act now or it is ultimately going to cost us jobs and plateau our prosperity. We simply cannot allow this to happen.

I am going to work closely with local leaders to maintain a heightened focus on the transit issue facing Nashville and the surrounding region. Any delay or short-term inattention to transportation infrastructure will have long-term effects, setting us back years in finding a workable solution to this immediate problem. Like a strong education system and affordable and quality health care, reliable and efficient public transit is a quality-of-life issue that must be addressed.

Reaching unanimous agreement on the first phase of what must be a multi-phase, long-term project is clearly impossible, but we should focus on areas of agreement, of which there are plenty. There is widespread agreement that we need a well-planned and well-designed public transit system that addresses immediate public transit needs, facilitates planned growth and connects Nashville to the region at large. It is not up for debate that the currently operating bus system is confusing and insufficient, and we must provide increased and more reliable service in underserved areas. These are only a few examples of broad consensus, but they are significant and should not be given short shrift. Nashville is pretty far down the road on the currently proposed plan, but it can still pivot — at a cost. Successful businesses do it every day. The key is to find common ground from which to build a successful and comprehensive local and regional transit system plan for our future. There is no reason to wait until next year to accomplish this. The future is now.