Traffic Congestion Creeps Up On Middle Tennessee Like A Frog In Hot Water | Nashville Public Radio

Traffic Congestion Creeps Up On Middle Tennessee Like A Frog In Hot Water

Feb 12, 2016

Rutherford County’s population is on pace to be larger than Chattanooga’s in the next 25 years. With that growth in mind — and the traffic that comes with it — regional transportation planners went to Smyrna Thursday night to hear the public’s concerns.

On this last stop of a seven-county listening tour, planners went into the heart of Middle Tennessee’s worst congestion: the Interstate 24 corridor.

That’s where Randy Caldwell has been commuting 20 years from Murfreesboro to East Nashville.

“It’s an hour drive, at least, every day. At least,” he said. “Anything would be an improvement. (But) who knows? Everything costs money. Therein lies the challenge.”

Like others, Caldwell examined a giant wall map and a fat blue line that connects the two cities. The line represents future high-capacity transit. But it’s not clear whether it could be light rail, rapid buses, or even monorail.

Randy Caldwell talks about 20 years of commuting between Murfreesboro and Nashville — He's learned some timing tricks and alternate routes, but hopes for bigger improvements.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

The Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, is ready to put more money than ever into serious mass transit. Its new plan marks $1.2 billion to explore transit options in three directions out of Nashville, to Gallatin, Franklin, and Murfreesboro.

Even that’s probably not enough funding, says Sam Williams, who spoke from a dual perspective: He’s an MPO digital mapping analyst and a bus commuter from Smyrna.

He worries congestion is creeping up.

“You know the boiling frog? You ever heard that? … You drop him in hot water — he knows it. If you just turn it up a little bit at a time, he just accepts it until he’s dead.”

It’s the MPO’s job not to accept such a fate.

The group plans how the region should spend its federal transportation dollars, including the $1.2 billion for transit and about $8 billion overall, all of which is contained in a new 25-year plan scheduled for adoption next week.

“We don’t think about how much time we’re spending in (traffic),” Williams said. “We’re accepting it like mortgages and everything else, and taking it as part of life and not thinking about, ‘Maybe we can get around this.’ ”

Proposed transportation projects are marked with green for "approve," yellow for "concerns," and red for "disapprove" at a regional meeting.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN