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What will it take to tackle mid-state traffic troubles?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WOLFE)  --  The southeast corridor between Murfreesboro and Nashville is one of the most congested stretches of highway in all of Tennessee, according to The Nashville Metropolitan Planning Organization. The problem will only get worse as Rutherford County’s population continues to expand. The county’s population has grown by 10 percent since 2010, according to the Tennessee State Comptroller’s Office.

Emerson Boguskie is certainly familiar with the mid-state’s traffic woes. He’s a Tennessee Highway Response Supervisor and drives one of the state’s 27 lime green Highway HELP trucks. The trucks are on the road 7 days a week, in and around Tennessee’s major cities. Eighty percent of the $11 million help truck program is federally funded and has just one goal: to expedite the flow of traffic.

“We change tires, give away gas, water, let people use cell phones,” Boguskie explained.  “[We help} if they got a loose wire, not too mechanical, that we can tell what it is. It could be a medical situation, having a heart attack, some baby fixing to be born every now and then.”

Stalled cars, accidents, debris, and chemical fires are just a few reasons that one, or many highways lanes have to be shut down, leading to longer commute times. Last year HELP truck operators changed 4,000 flat tires and made 31,000 stops to help motorist in Middle Tennessee. The state plans to deploy 9 more trucks THIS YEAR. But transportation expert Mary Beth Ikard says that traffic is here to stay, and that can actually be a good thing.

“Automobile traffic congestion isn’t necessarily going anywhere,” Ikard said. “In fact when you think about major metropolises like Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and so forth, they all have a lot of traffic congestion on their roadways. Their peak commutes are always sort of stop and go traffic and that’s a symptom of a good economy.”

Ikard is the Transportation Sustainability Manager in The Nashville Mayor’s Office. She says expanding the number of freeway lanes isn’t the answer.

“It’s more about moving people and not just cars. A bus can hold 35 people very efficiently and when you think about 35 people spread out in single occupant vehicles, it’s not the most efficient way,” she said.

Ikard says the only way Middle Tennessee can get a handle on traffic congestion is to change the way we think about the daily commute.

“The thing that contributes to what makes a place livable is giving folks an alternative; a choice to get around that congestion, should they choose to, a competitive transit product,” Ikard said.

State Senator Bill Ketron and Nashville Mayor Barry have discussed llowing rapid transit busses to cruise past congestion on the shoulders of the I-24 Murfreesboro to Nashville Corridor. Another future possibility is Google driverless cars. Mary Beth Ikard says whatever transit choices are made it’s important for mid-states residents to take part.

I would say just get involved in these types of decisions that are happening in your community if you want to see more jobs, and affordable housing product that’s around nodes and centers, that might prime an area for future mass transit investment, a quality high speed transit investment, then you have a say in those matters,” she said.

While Middle Tennesseans are having their say, HELP truck drivers will continue to brave local highways to keep traffic flowing as best they can. Drivers like Emerson Boguskie takes the risk in stride.

“Every truck in this program has been hit at least once. It’s just an inherent risk of the work. It takes a special person to come in here. If you stay here long enough you gone get hit, we can only hope you don’t get hurt,” he concluded.

You can review the Metro Nashville Planning Commission’s vision for Middle Tennessee’s future transportation needs online. Follow this link to the “Bold, New Vision for Mass Transit” map.