Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Three Things to Know From Karl Dean's Amp Press Conference

Posted By on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 4:57 PM

Mayor Karl Dean announced two fairly significant changes to The Amp's design Tuesday morning, as well as a new committee that he says is aimed at increasing the community's involvement in the process.

The mayor has asked The Amp project team to look at nixing the use of dedicated lanes along two portions of the route where the design has raised concerns and vehement opposition. The proposed changes would make the western-most portion of the route between I-440 and White Bridge Road more like the BRT Lite systems currently in place on Gallatin and Murfreesboro Roads, and run The Amp in mixed traffic from the I-40 overpass downtown to the Broadway / West End split.

Dean said he wants "the neighbors in the Richland, West End, Woodmont areas, and everyone who has participated in the development of this project by giving us their questions and comments to know, you've been heard."

The resulting line, Dean said, needs to be "a system that works from a transit service perspective and from a neighborhood perspective" and one that's fast, convenient, and reliable.

"But if we can accomplish those goals with a BRT system less-dependent on dedicated travel lanes than what has been proposed to date, then that's what we should do. And that's what we will do."

Dean said Metro has discussed the proposed changes with the Federal Transit Administration and that they weren't "setting off alarm bells" with the agency that recently recommended $27 million in federal funding for the project and, which Metro officials expect will fund $48 million more over the next two years.

After the jump, three (more) things to know from the mayor's announcement:

The mayor also wants to create a Citizens Advisory Committee for The Amp:

"I want to build a transit project that works for the FTA, but most importantly that works for Nashville," Dean said. "Especially the people who live or work nearby. And in order to do that, I believe more community leaders along the corridor need greater involvement in the process."

Community members along the corridor (and beyond it) have been calling for more community involvement for some time now. Dean says the committee will be "a vehicle for the project team to share information about the Amp design and solicit feedback, meaning it will facilitate a two-way conversation with the community most greatly impacted by the project."

The committee will meet on a regular basis with the project team to have input on design and service options, and Dean says he will ask local and state representatives along the route to help select committee members and make sure the group represents "the geographic and stakeholder diversity along corridor."

"We will invite people to participate on the committee regardless of whether they are seen as supportive of The Amp or not," he said. "People who have been opposed to this project can contribute to this process in a positive way."

"Emotions have run high as the conversation about The Amp has heated up. People feel very passionately on both sides about what they do or don't want this project to be. So let me be clear — creating a successful mass transit system is not an exercise of poltiics. It take engineering and expertise to create a transit line that will work, and so it is the engineers who are guiding the design of this project from both Metro and TDOT. I can't dictate the results. Other people can't dictate the results. The outcome will be based on what works within the parameters set by FTA."

Lee Beaman is still not on board:

ABC's Nashville isn't so far off, as it happens. Tuesday afternoon, about an hour after the mayor's press conference, a group of reporters crowded in front of the First Tennessee tower downtown to collect the reaction of a local silver-haired tycoon who has occasionally played foil to Hizzoner.

Auto dealer Lee Beaman has provided significant financial backing to Stop Amp, and has become a fixture at the state legislature in recent months as he lobbies state officials to stop the project as it's currently proposed. Stop Amp had put out the word following Dean's announcement that Beaman would give a statement soon thereafter. Upon meeting with reporters, however, Beaman said he hadn't seen the mayor's announcement and didn't know what Dean had said...

Anyway, after being looped in on the basics, Beaman said the proposed changes are a "vast improvement" but that dedicated lanes still pose a problem.

"As long as there are still dedicated lanes anywhere along the route, that means that there are going to be choke points that will back up traffic along most all of the route," he said. "So, if it's a good idea to eliminate the dedicated lanes in some places, it seems like it would be good to eliminate them in all places so traffic can flow more freely."

He did say that he'd be happy to participate in Dean's proposed citizen committee.

"I do appreciate the fact that the mayor has acknowledged that there are some problems with it that need to be addressed and that he needs to reach out for more community input, to improve on the design of it," he said. "I really appreciate that, so I'd be happy to work with him to try to come up with a solution that's a win-win that makes everybody happy."

One of the proposed changes — between I-40 and the Broadway / West End split — would alter The Amp's route right in front of Beaman's downtown dealership. He said, however, that his concern is for the entire route, not just the part near his business. Asked whether a successful transit solution would hurt his business, Beaman said it wouldn't, an implied rejection of the notion that his opinion of The Amp is colored by the source of his fortune.

"If we take 10 percent of the cars off the road in Nashville, it's not going to make that much difference to me one way or the other and it would be vast improvement in the traffic in this city," he said.

The state could still blow the whole thing up:

Last week, the state Senate passed a bill that would effectively block The Amp as it's currently proposed, by banning its center-lane design. The House version does not include any regulations related to the design. The House Finance Committee passed the bill Tuesday afternoon, sending it on to be scheduled for a final vote on the House floor.

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