Steven Hale details what went wrongish for the Amp on Capitol Hill. The short answer is, "Plenty," and much of it has been the result of the Dean administration being caught flat-footed. As to where things go from here...
The legislative fight over The Amp has stirred up a volatile set of political dynamics that could be factors in this and other issues going forward. For instance: What effect, if any, does the open gubernatorial race in 2018 have on issues that pit Democrat Karl Dean against Republican Beth Harwell? That's a juicy what-if. But at present, there's a more pressing issue, according to insiders and a good set of eyes: the frosty relationship between Dean and Davidson County's state legislators, exacerbated by the mayor's inability, or unwillingness, to cultivate Tennessee lawmakers on pivotal city issues.
Via Pith, a compromise has taken banning center lanes off of the table, but Mayor Karl Dean's signature bus rapid transit project will still need approval from the General Assembly if it has any form of dedicated lane.
As for the final legislation pertaining to The Amp, Turner said it's bad, but better than the original Senate language that would have effectively killed the project as it's currently proposed.
"I'm not comfortable with the deal, no, because I think we're stepping in — we've set a precedent here," he said. "And I think it's going to get very burdensome for the state to have to do this if we starting having to approve individual projects across the state like that. It's worked fine the way we do it. They say this is a new type of project, of course that's not what this is about, this is a political thing. This is the best thing for Metro Nashville, best thing we could've done. It's the compromise we ended up with."
Mike Schatzlein, president and CEO of Saint Thomas Health Services and chair of the Amp Coalition, had the following to say this afternoon:
“We are satisfied with the outcome in the General Assembly today. This bill clearly defines approval levels of local and state participation in the transit project process. We look forward to our continued involvement in planning for Middle Tennessee’s urgent and growing transit needs. The Amp Coalition will stay committed to educating the community and region about the benefits of The Amp as the first step in a Middle Tennessee transit strategy.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey would not predict what financial help the Nashville Amp bus rapid transit project could get from the legislature in 2015, but said state funding for the city’s program is "dead for this year."
“I do want to make sure that we’re using taxpayer dollars wisely and I do think some of this is just, again, emotion, that mass transit is good, cars are bad kind of thing,” the leading Senate Republican said. “And I’m not sure the Amp has ever been proven that it’s exactly what’s needed.”
The Senate Transportation Committee voted Wednesday to block state funding for Nashville’s $175 million bus rapid transit project, a budget amendment spearheaded by chairman Jim Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican and U.S. Congressional candidate. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, was looking for the state to put in $35 million.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Tracy last year received a $5,000 campaign contribution from Lee Beaman, a main Amp opponent. Although Tracy told reporters he did not know Beaman was leading the charge to fight to the project, he said he knew of his opposition.
While Ramsey acknowledged the city is growing as a fast pace, he said Nashville is “not there yet” to need bus rapid transit and said “one year is not going to hurt anything.”
Dean will be termed out of office about a year from now, a fact when pointed out to Ramsey by a reporter led him to laugh and sarcastically reply, "He won’t?"
“This isn’t Atlanta and this isn’t New York City," he said. "Do we have some minor problems? Maybe. But I’m not sure that the city of Nashville is ready for a MARTA or ready for a METRO or anything like that. I won’t say nothing, but I do think we make sure that this is something that will be used and not highly taxpayer subsidized before we’re doing that,” he said.
House Speaker Beth Harwell didn't know about Tracy's budget amendment until after it was approved, the Nashville Republican told reporters. But she said she's unchanged in her opposition to funding the Amp ahead of other projects already on the state's priority list.
"We are underfunding our road projects across the state and I think they [state legislators] felt strongly that this was too big of an ask for any state money to be used for this project," she said. "I would agree with that."
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman and U.S. Congressional candidate Jim Tracy wants to edit the the state budget to ban it from funding bus rapid transit projects on state highways.
Tracy’s self-described “tightly drawn” language would essentially ban the state from allocating any money for the Nashville Amp, a signature yet embattled project spearheaded by Democratic Mayor Karl Dean.
“What’s it called, Amp? Those signs that says, “No Amp,” or “Yes on Amp,” those? It would affect that… No funds can be used for that,” Tracy explained to North Nashville’s Sen. Thelma Harper in the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday in explaining his amendment.
“No, no use taking no vote, Hell, if you already know what you’re going to do,” Harper replied.
Under the current plan, Nashville was seeking $35 million in state funds to go with $60 million from Metro as well as $75 million from the federal government.
Major Republican political contributor and financier of opposition against the Amp, Lee Beaman, was on Capitol Hill today, and other die hard opponents have walked the halls of Legislative Plaza for weeks making their opposition to the Amp project known.
Transportation Commissioner John Schroer had cast doubt the state would be willing to help fund the Amp project in November, a plan to run a bus rapid transit line along West End to East Nashville.
House Speaker Beth Harwell had also said she was unwilling to fund the project this year, which led to Gov. Bill Haslam saying he would follow the speaker’s lead.
Local technology executive Robert Hartline isn't buying the idea that the West End corridor needs a bus rapid transit line to stave off almost certain future congestion that would essentially turn it into a parking lot. Instead, the founder of software developer Call Proof argues in a post on his new blog construction of the proposed Amp BRT system will so disrupt the car-heavy thoroughfare that shoppers and diners will stay away in such numbers that the very nature of the artery will be forever changed.
Could this all mean that businesses close and space remains vacant in this area a number of years, eventually getting rezoned for residential use and new apartments go up? This is very possible because by the time The AMP is in service, there isn’t going to be the same West End like you see today. Fewer restaurants, less retail, and not as many other businesses all mean fewer reasons for someone to ride The AMP.
One area in which Hartline loses me is his point that potential employees of companies located along West End might be scared off by the Amp's construction. In arguing that "having to drive to a park and ride and wait for a bus increasing overall commute, these prime candidates will continue their job search outside of this area," he misses (or dismisses) the bigger-picture idea that Nashville's growth will naturally produce much more traffic along key roads such as West End Avenue. But his alternatives to absorbing that growth — doing nothing or preserving car lanes by moving to a curb service — fall flat. On this point, it seems like he is reading one of the main talking points of the Amp Yes coalition but actually coming to the exact opposite conclusion.
Via Pith, Charlie Tygard has filed several pieces of legislation aimed at initiating a discussion over the long-term funding for the Amp, Mayor Karl Dean's proposed bus rapid transit line.
An increase in the sales tax would have to be approved in a countywide referendum. Tygard's ordinance would raise that tax half a percent (from 2.25 percent to 2.75). By state law, half of the sales and use tax must be directed to schools, so his proposal would send a quarter of the increase to schools, with the other quarter percent going to mass transit. His other ordinance would increase the the fee for commercial and personal motor vehicle tags by $20, from $66 to $86 and $55 to $75 respectively. That would raise $9 million annually, which he says would be enough to cover the potential cost and debt service associated with The Amp.