Posted on September 17, 2003
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Construction on the Nashville-to-Lebanon leg of the Middle Tennessee commuter-rail system can begin now that the U.S. Department of Transportation has agreed to release nearly $13.8 million in federal funding. The Nashville Regional Transportation Authority needed approval from the Department of Transportation before it could begin construction. With the support of the Tennessee congressional delegation, the RTA received the go-ahead from the federal agency this week. "Several studies have ranked the sprawl in Nashville as one of the worst in the nation," U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon said. "If we want to maintain the quality of life that has attracted new businesses and residents to Middle Tennessee, we have got to come up with a multifaceted approach to reduce traffic congestion. "There is a direct link between good public transportation and job creation. Commuter rail is an essential part of that approach." Gordon, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bill Frist have acquired more than $15.8 million in federal funding for the project. "This is a major step forward in making sure that the Nashville commuter line project becomes a reality," Cooper said. "I am excited that the project is now ready to begin construction, and I look forward to working with everyone involved as the program moves to the next phase." The commuter-rail project is envisioned to consist of five lines, originating from Nashville and shuttling passengers to Mount Juliet, Gallatin, Hendersonville, La Vergne, Smyrna, Murfreesboro, Franklin and Kingston Springs. "Nashville has worked hard to develop and improve commuter and transportation options," Frist said, "and the release of this critical funding will allow progress on the light-rail system to continue. "Traffic congestion, population growth and increased tourism to the area require a well-devised plan to solve Nashville's many transportation challenges. Continued development of Nashville's light-rail system will provide an effective alternative to help alleviate traffic congestion." Nashville is the largest metropolitan area in the Southeast without a rail-transit system. The Census Bureau's 2000 count indicated the Nashville area increased in population by 25 percent over the previous Census count in 1990. Some counties surrounding Nashville experienced even bigger population gains. Wilson County, where the first leg of the rail line would be operational, grew by 31 percent, and Rutherford County grew by 54 percent. "This funding is important to commuters in Middle Tennessee," Alexander said. "It means that commuter rail is a step closer to becoming a reality. "I will continue working with Senator Frist and the congressional delegation to help see this project through to completion. It will go a long way to alleviate regional traffic problems." Interstates 65, 24 and 40 crisscross Middle Tennessee and pass through the heart of Nashville, linking Middle Tennessee to commerce from every state in the nation. "Reducing the amount of traffic on our roadways would benefit the region tremendously," Gordon said. "Not only would commuter rail shorten drive times for motorists, it would also reduce harmful emissions and pollutants."