Without discussion, or any vocal protest from members of the Davidson County delegation, the state Senate gave near-unanimous approval to legislation that would block The Amp as it's currently proposed.
Republican Sen. Jim Tracy's bill passed 27-4, with the only opposition coming from Democrats Lowe Finney, Jim Kyle, Charlotte Burks, and Nashville's Thelma Harper, who was the only Davidson County senator to vote no. Late last year, Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson said he had not taken a firm position on Mayor Karl Dean's proposed $175 million bus rapid transit project, but that many of his constituents had expressed opposition. Democrat Sen. Doug Henry said at the time that he was waiting to hear from TDOT officials before taking a position. Both voted for the legislation Thursday that would effectively kill the project as it is currently envisioned.
The bill — SB 2243 / HB 2156 — would require that the Metro Council, and the Tennessee Department of Transportation, approve The Amp's dedicated lane design, and prohibit a system from loading or unloading passengers in the center lane. Both are critical to The Amp's current design.
That's why Amp supporters are pinning their hopes on the House version of the bill, which does not include the provision banning the center-lane design. They're betting that Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, who has said the state shouldn't fund the project, is less willing to support such strict design regulations.
The different versions of the bills will have to be reconciled one way or the other. The Senate has spoken. The House version is scheduled to be considered in the Finance Committee next week.
UPDATE (11:15 a.m.): After the jump, a statement from the Stop Amp organization:
The Tennessee State Senate stood up for safety and common sense in our government today. On a vote of 27 to 3 they passed a bill sponsored by State Senator Jim Tracy to prohibit the building of the AMP Bus Rapid Transit project in the center lanes of Broadway and West End Avenue which if it had been allowed to be built would have made all passengers walk thru automobile traffic to get to the boarding platform for the AMP. This would have been very unsafe for passengers trying to board the bus. This has been a very bi-partisan effort all the way. StopAMP.org wants to thank Americans for Prosperity, Lee Beaman, Richard Fulton, Dianne Neal and Professor Malcolm Goetz for their tireless support in helping pass this legislation. We look forward to the Tennessee State House of Representatives placing the same amendment on the companion bill before it passes the House.
It's worth noting the inclusion of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers-backed conservative advocacy group, who hasn't previously been a public player in the debate over The Amp.
UPDATE II (3:15 p.m.): A statement from Dr. Mike Schatzlein, Amp Coalition chairman, and the president and CEO of Saint Thomas Health:
“While the outcome in the Senate was not unexpected, it is very disappointing. The Senate basically took a local project that has been in development for five years and voted on an amendment intended to kill it. The project is the first leg of a regional transit system, so this vote impacts all of Middle Tennessee. We believe the Senate’s actions represent an overreach of its legislative authority — transit solutions like these are best created on the local level.
“This is another step in a long process. The House is considering an amendment that would allow the local engineering design process for The Amp, Bus Rapid Transit system to continue, with appropriate legislative oversight. We’ll continue to work with House members to pass the House bill with that amendment intact because it allows local communities to manage growth and serve their residents, workers and visitors.”