PHOTO: From left, Brentwood resident Brad Winkler looks over maps of the I-65 Multimodal Corridor Study area with Drew Gaskins, transportation planner at Greshman, Smith and Partners.
BY LANDON WOODROOF
Williamson County residents got a chance to provide feedback to the Tennessee Department of Transportation on its study of Interstate 65 from the Alabama state line to the Kentucky line Tuesday night.
The study, which began in January 2016, produced ideas and possible solutions that could ease congestion and improve safety and traffic flow on the interstate and some of the arterial roads and highways that connect to it.
At the Brentwood Library Tuesday night, representatives from TDOT as well as consultants from Gresham, Smith and Partners—the engineering firm hired to help out with the project—were on hand to discuss the study and to solicit feedback from residents about which roads, intersections and trouble spots should be considered priorities by the state.
John Houghton, a consultant on the project, illustrated the traffic challenges along I-65, both as they exist currently and as they are projected to exist in 2040.
For instance, the population of areas along the 122-mile I-65 corridor is expected to grow by 1.2 million people between 2010 and 2040. The vast majority of that growth, around 967,000 people, is expected to be in just four counties: Davidson, Rutherford, Williamson and Wilson.
He said eastern Williamson County and western Rutherford County near Interstate 840 is predicted to be a particular hot spot for growth.
That explosive growth, of course, means more clogged roadways. Houghton displayed maps showing roads with travel volumes that outpaced road capacity. Although the 2010 map showed a fair amount of congested routes, marked in red, the 2040 map showed significantly more.
“What does that mean for you in terms of travel time?” Houghton asked.
Another slide showed how commutes are expected to change in the next 30 years. A commute from south Nashville to the core of the city in 2010 was shown to take 16 minutes. In 2040, that travel time almost doubles to 30 minutes. A trip from Brentwood to Franklin does double in that time span, from 11 minutes in 2010 to 22 minutes in 2040.
Looking at the safety issue, Houghton pointed out locations along the corridor that experience crash rates significantly greater than the state average.
One that will be familiar to any Brentwood commuter or resident is the Old Hickory Boulevard exit going into Brentwood. Whereas the statewide crash rate for a similar roadway is about .5 crashes per million miles traveled, that intersection’s crash rate is 2.6, a 400 percent increase.
In answer to these challenges, study coordinators have identified numerous construction projects that could be carried out to help slow the rate of congestion in the corridor. Some of these projects were identified with the assistance of members of the public during Phase One of the study.
Tuesday’s meeting was one of three that TDOT is hosting as part of Phase Two of the study. Attendees were encouraged to identify traffic problem areas they felt needed attention by putting sticky notes on maps of the corridor.
Houghton ran through some of the projects the study focuses on, such as the planned extension of Mack Hatcher Parkway from Hillsboro Road to Highway 96.
Others are not quite as high profile, even if they have been identified as potential project sites for years. On that list are the I-65 and Old Hickory Boulevard interchanges. Houghton also mentioned a possible extra interchange in Brentwood between Concord Road and Old Hickory Boulevard was on the study’s radar.
Brentwood’s Engineering Director Mike Harris said the idea for an extra interchange has been kicking around for years.
“It’s always been envisioned that Murray Lane would be extended across the Turner property if that property were ever developed,” Harris said. He calls it a “monster project” given both its high price tag, which would be in the many tens of millions of dollars, and its conflict with existing railroad tracks as well as the Little Harpeth River. For that reason, the project does not seem likely to happen in the near-term.
Houghton highlighted several other potential projects as well, including the widening of I-65 from I-840 to Saturn Parkway from four to six lanes and the widening of Murfreesboro Road from Arno Road to Veterans Parkway from two to five lanes.
Even if all the dozens of projects identified by the study come to fruition, traffic is still going to be a problem in the area. Houghton made that clear by showing a chart with projected 2040 travel times with and without the study improvements. Most routes showed a couple of minutes worth of saved commute time at best. Houghton described them as “incremental changes.”
Brentwood resident Hollie Cummings was one of only a dozen non-staff members in attendance and identified Old Hickory Boulevard as the road she was most concerned about traffic-wise.
“It just seems like any day you see the news before you go out the door and there’s a problem on Old Hickory and that impacts I-65 and that impacts Franklin Road,” she said. She described it as a trickle-down effect.
Houghton mentioned how important it is for those conducting the study to hear from citizens about the parts of the interstate that bother them most.
“The public input is absolutely key,” he said. “There are always additional highways or interchanges or improvements beyond the existing plans” that consultants would want to know about.
The meeting at the library was the second one TDOT is holding during Phase 2 of the study. The first was last week in Goodlettsville. The third and last will take place this Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Spring Hill City Hall.
The I-65 Multimodal Corridor Study webpage includes an interactive map where citizens can identify places they think the study should focus on.