For many local drivers, traffic has become a headache. We spoke with Thompson’s Station Mayor Corey Napier on the traffic problems he sees in the Thompson’s Station area and the solutions he suggests as both a local leader and a commuter himself.
What do you think of the current state of commuter traffic?
I’ve traveled extensively and have seen how other cities try to manage the traffic problem. One of my things, living out here in Thompson’s Station, and having commuted over the years—I’m part of the problem, right? I’ve commuted to downtown Nashville, to West End, to Brentwood. So I feel that while we put these mechanisms in place like HOV lanes to encourage good behavior, carpooling, ride-sharing and so-forth, there is lack of will-power collectively to really treat them for what they are intended for: everyone cheats. Everyone takes advantage of them. And we really end up with adverse selection, the very behavior we don’t want, which is more cars on the road.
Who is responsible for solving the problem, what is creating it?
For me, within the exurbs, what is left of greater Nashville, if the state and local governments continue to approve housing developments and encourage density out past I-840, the problem will not go away on its own. Leadership, from somewhere, and action is required. The state has a responsibility, too. They built I-840, and it has created an economic and residential engine, but no solutions have been made to deal with the transportation issues that come about with that growth.
You move out here, but oh by the way, you still need to get around out here, but there is really no way to do that. It is a huge collective challenge for the state of Tennessee.
Most days of the week, people will have to do what is in their immediate best interest. There is the bottom-up aspect to this, of changing behavior of the individual. So there is a pain threshold—there is a lack of punishments and a lack of incentives, a lack of carrots and sticks, to cause people to use HOV lanes correctly, and to push for solutions to commuter traffic. You get basically a free lunch, there is nothing really punitive happening from an enforcement standpoint.
On the other hand . . .
The other part of the issue is this larger discussion about multi-modality and other ways of getting around, and we as leaders have failed to make hard decisions about how to fund other transit solutions. So you can’t fault the person cheating on the HOV lanes, sure they are breaking the law, but there are really no options. We talk about mass transit and light rail, but that has been a non-starter in Williamson County so far.
I can speak as a mayor and a citizen, because I am one of those single-occupant drivers a lot of the time. I see opportunities for other options, like better enforcement of HOV, better carrots and sticks, and things like light-rail. I would love to see a light rail solution. I see our community having a light-rail future, taking people to downtown Nashville.
Solutions like light-rail have a large initial investment, but it is like buying a house versus renting one for years.
Traffic is part of the larger picture of growth. Land management and smarter growth could help, but how?
The bigger discussion in this is driving a better bargain in living here: who pays for the additional cost of the infrastructure that is needed as more and more people move here. Each project incrementally adds to the cost of running our communities. In Thompson’s Station, we expect developers to pay to offset some of this impact, having growth pay for itself.
For example, what we need overall is a better comprehensive land use planning. This is something, frankly, I think we are failing at in Williamson County.
We know where the growth is going largely and what corridors it is in. For example, we could go to the school system and point out where down the line based on where development is going where schools will be needed. The school can buy land way ahead of time, and overall things develop in a controlled and maintained way.
In a large sense, developers here have had a sort of free lunch, because our zoning planning is still set toward a pre-growth footing.
There has been a limited amount of investment in infrastructure in what is required of builders and people buying houses, they can build houses here all day long.