The decision to “divert” funding from the long-planned and long-stalled Gulch-SoBro pedestrian bridge toward fixing a number of other, more important infrastructure needs is a good move by Mayor John Cooper.
As I reviewed the list of items that the new mayor wants to fix, I was struck by the number of bridges and overpasses we have closed due to structural problems. This is a serious problem! Why was this decision not made years ago?
The pedestrian bridge made some sense in 2013, when the nearly $18 million project cost was equal to the volume of bridge repair and construction needs for the entire city. Connecting the fast-growing Gulch and SoBro neighborhoods separated by railroad yards is a good idea, with both areas’ growth contributing significantly to Nashville’s economy.
But our infrastructure needs have increased more than 700 percent in the six years since the Metro Council approved the pedestrian bridge, and Mayor Cooper’s decision is the kind of smart fiscal choice we should have been making years ago. According to the Mayor’s Office, Metro Public Works currently needs $131 million to replace and repair bridges and culverts; it’s clear we have been sitting idly by while our bridges and overpasses weakened and crumbled, in some cases having to be closed. Nashville is growing, which means the city must widen roads, expand bridges, increase carrying capacity and build infrastructure that supports the growth and investment that is happening here. We have not been putting adequate funding toward this budget need.
The mayor is making some smart decisions, and diverting these funds is one of them. During a recent press conference explaining this allocation, he said, “Now is the time for responsible spending to address our most critical infrastructure needs and focus on the safety and priorities that impact all of Nashville’s neighborhoods.” Mayor Cooper wants to spend the pedestrian bridge money on 52 projects in 24 of Nashville’s 35 Metro Council districts. They may not be what you’d call “glamorous” downtown projects, but they address needs all across town — putting more trash and recycling containers into use, repairing parks and fixing crumbling bridges.
This decision reminds me of the late Richard Fulton, who served as Nashville’s mayor from 1975 to 1987. I was honored to work for Mayor Fulton, and one of my fondest memories of his commitment to our city is of his habit of keeping an old tape recorder in his car. He would use it to record reminders as he drove around town of the locations where a streetlight needed a new bulb, or a pothole was growing too large. It stayed in his car with him constantly, and it was there every time I would ride with him as we went from one meeting to another.
It’s fitting that Nashville’s newest mayor, who said he would make neighborhoods’ well-being a focus of his administration, is continuing the charge that Mayor Fulton began when he chose to extend Nashville’s water and sewer lines to the county edges. That decision resulted in strong growth in Nashville’s neighborhoods throughout the 1980s, and Mayor Cooper is continuing that commitment, ensuring that all of Nashville is given the chance to thrive.
Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.