by Steven Hale
The Metro Council last night passed a budget and held a public hearing on Mayor Karl Dean's $300 million capital spending plan.
The final $1.8 billion budget is the mayor's proposal, plus $702,200 in additional funding added by the council. Those additional funds include a $200,000 subsidy for the Tennessee State Fairgrounds — the first time the property has ever taken taxpayer dollars — that is contingent upon the council taking action on the Fairgrounds Master Plan.
That sets up another debate on the fate of the beloved property, which is more than a century old but has struggled in recent years. The master plan contains a variety of scenarios for implementing one of two options: tearing down the fairgrounds to allow for private redevelopment, or revamping the facility to continue its current uses. In 2011, after the mayor abandoned a plan for redevelopment, 71 percent of voters in a county-wide referendum voted to maintain the current use of the property.
Tuesday night also served as The Amp's first appearance at the Courthouse. Tucked into Dean's $300 million capital spending plan is $7.5 million for the next phase of engineering in the project. That money would only be spent, however, if the feds accept the project.
Supporters of the mayor's proposed $175 million bus rapid transit plan wore green shirts with the slogan "I'm amped." They included a number of big business and hospitality interests along the corridor, as well as representatives from several pro-transit organizations, like Transit Now Nashville and the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee.
Opponents — though outnumbered and not color-coordinated — spoke as well, urging the council to slow down the process, and expressing doubts about the viability of the project on West End.
More on the hearing over atThe City Paper:
Charles Bone, Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee board chair, said “this is where we get moving” on transit.
“When you think about what is on this route, and what will be covered by this route, it is literally the Main Street of Tennessee,” he said. “This is where it needs to start.”
Opponents of The Amp have insisted that the project will increase traffic congestion, despite claims to the contrary from Metro officials and project boosters. They have also raised concerns about the removal of on-street parking along the route, and the effect it could have on businesses. Still others have argued that Charlotte Avenue makes more sense, particularly because residents along that corridor are more reliant upon public transit options.
Several speakers expressed doubt that the riders the project is counting on will be waiting for The Amp when it arrives.
“It doesn’t have citizen support,” said Margo Chambers, who lives near the western end of the route. “I live along this corridor, I’m supposed to be a likely rider. Not only will I not use it because it doesn’t match my commute, I have not met one person in my neighborhood who would use it on a daily basis.”
The council will vote on the capital spending plan at its next meeting on June 11.