State Legislator Calls For Serious Discussion of General Assembly and TDOT Approval of Transit on State Highway or Right-of-Way

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A serious policy discussion regarding approval by the Tennessee General Assembly and Commissioner of Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) of a local government transit system on any state highway or state highway right-of-way is being called for by State Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield).

Roberts has introduced an amendment to SB2477 amending Public Chapter No. 998 which took effect on July 1, 2014, and addressed bus rapid transit in a dedicated separate lane or other separate right-of-way. At the time, then Nashville Mayor Karl Dean was pushing for a $75 million trackless trolley, dubbed AMP, that would connect East Nashville with West End.

Public Chapter No. 998, which came from Senate Bill 2243 by State Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and former State Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), dealt with bus rapid transit on state highways and state highway right-of-ways.

The law, which in itself was an amendment to existing Tennessee Code Annotated 7-56-102, stated that “No local government or any transit authority created by any local government shall construct, maintain or operate any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane, or other separate right-of-way, dedicated to the use of such bus rapid transit system on any state highway or state highway right-of-way unless the project … is approved by the governing body of the local government and by the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation.”

It went on further to require that, prior to the approval of the project, the TDOT Commissioner shall provide written notice of any such proposed project to the Speakers of the Senate and House as well as the chair of each body’s transportation committee.

If there were any proposals for a state agency to assist in funding a project, the funding would be subject to the approval of the General Assembly in the annual appropriations act. In the absence of a request for state funding, the project would still be subject to approval by the General Assembly through a joint resolution which could originate in either house.

Roberts’ bill simply inserts language, in addition to bus rapid transit, “or any light rail system in any tunnel or subway or on any public road, street, or highway or public road, street, or highway right-of-way, whether the road, street, or highway is underground.”

The bill also adds a subsection to define light rail as “rail transit that is electrically powered, can operate in mixed traffic with motor vehicles, and is used for the purpose of public transportation,” and further defines the many elements and combination of elements that could potentially be involved in a “light rail system.”

Roberts told The Tennessee Star, “If bus rapid transit was subject to the approval of the TDOT Commissioner and the Tennessee General Assembly, shouldn’t a system that costs more than 100 times as much, is more permanent in nature, and has significant economic consequences, in addition to being on a state highway or state right-of-way, be subject to the same policy discussion.”

The bill, sponsored in the House by State Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville), is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee and House Transportation Subcommittee this week.

If passed, the bill could impact the $9 billion Let’s Move Nashville transit plan, which includes five lines of light rail on state highway right-of-way.

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