A battle for buses is now raging within the Tennessee legislature.
In June 2013, the Nashville Metro Council, in tandem with Mayor Karl Dean, made a simple announcement: they wanted to build a bus system across the city. And not just any bus system– The Amp, a 7.1 mile mass transit bus system designed to utilize "high-tech, environmentally friendly vehicles," cut commuter times and foster economic growth in the city, according to the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee website.
Operating within a designated center lane, the system would provide an estimated 1.3 million trips a year in a timely and effective manner across various points of Nashville.
Despite years of planning, research and budgeting, the decision drew both support and criticism from locals, who questioned the projected route, as well as the bus' effect on taxes, traffic and property value in Nashville. Opposition came partially from the Tennessee branch of Americans for Prosperity, an influential and conservative lobbying group whose widespread derision of the project culminated in the creation of Stopamp.org.
Above all, residents and lobbyists questioned the estimated price tag: $174 million, spread between the local, state and federal government.
At the end of March, the Tennessee State Senate approved Senate Bill 2243, a measure that forbade all metropolitan cities within the state from “constructing, maintaining or operating any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane," effectively stifling any plans to move forward with the AMP. While the bill was aimed toward the AMP proposal, Knoxville also fell beneath this mandate.
However, on Thursday, Tennessee House members passed an amendment by a 69-5 vote that made a slight, but notable, shift in attitude. The new bill permits systems like the AMP, but require metro governments to gain the approval of the Tennessee Department of Transportation before implementing the transit system.
Thankful for the recent amendment, AMP Director of Programs Carrie Brumfield has regained hope for the future bus system.
“We want to thank members of the state House of Representatives for doing the right thing and keeping the current approval process for transit projects in place,” Brumfield said.
In Brumfield's opinion, there are serious problems posed by the city’s growth that can be solved only through an improved transit system. The progress of the AMP project is reliant on the Tennessee Senate's vote to accept the amendment, but Brumfield said she is hopeful legislators will “choose to do the best thing” for Nashville by passing the revised bill.
For students like Jake Rainey, senior in journalism and electronic media, the environmental necessity of a mass transit system is apparent.
“Mass transit is a very positive thing, especially in such cities as Nashville which are suffering from such huge amounts of urban sprawl,” Rainey said. “Knoxville does need something similar to AMP, and I guarantee they’re probably trying to find a way to do it.”
In a letter to Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, Melissa Roberson, chief administrative officer and interim general manager of Knoxville Area Transit, urged Dunn to oppose the original “short sighted” bill. Citing the “potential for negative impacts on possible future improvements,” Roberson asserted the view that prohibiting future center lane, mass transit buses in Knoxville would inevitably harm future economic growth for the city.
For more information on SB2243, click here.