CAPPE addresses mass transit



By Joel Davis
of The Daily Times Staff
Feb. 27, 2007

The prospects for a mass transit system in Blount County are slim unless regional planning priorities change.

That's the perspective of Jeff Welch, Executive Director of the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, who spoke at the annual meeting of Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension on Monday.

"You are supporting low-density residential development, and that doesn't support mass transit," he said.

It would take a population of about 5,000 to 6,000 people per square mile for mass transit such as bus lines or light rail to be feasible, based on "whether you can get a reasonable return on ridership," Welch said.

Parts of Blount County would only be reaching up to 5,000 people per square mile by 2030, according to the presentation.

"We're rating low ... in what would be eligible for (federal) mass transit funds," Welch said. "We're not in the hunt. We have to change our policies in the kind of development we want."

The idea of mass transit is something that has the support of the people attending the meeting.

"I would love to see a mass transit system, but we'd have to get rid of our love affair with cars," Elaine Kant said.

Welch said population levels in Blount County might support some type of more-expensive, call-on-demand bus service such as currently offered by the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency.

"Only 1 percent or less of our population uses other transportation choices on a daily basis," he said. "There is a lot of room for growth."

Back in 1965, there were 98 intercity buses and 22 intercity trains operating out of Knoxville, Welch said.

"We had a lot of transit choices in 1965," he said. "Since then, our choices have diminished. At the same time our population has grown."

The region saw the loss of commuter rail and bus services as suburbanization and sprawl changed the pattern of where people lived and worked, Welch said.

"A lot of these services in the 1960s and '70s were for-profit, but they went out of business," he said. "They lost money."

CAPPE asked Welch and Cindy McGinnis, general manager of Knox Area Transit, to speak at the annual meeting in order to gain insight about possible transportation alternatives.

"The county and state have been so focused on roads and highways that we thought it would be useful to learn more about alternatives to driving our cars everywhere," said Bill Busser, CAPPE President.

McGinnis told the audience that even being eligible for federal funding for mass transit systems requires intensive administrative effort.

"The federal money is really expensive," she said. "You have to jump through all kinds of hoops."

CAPPE formed when Blount County residents heard the Tennessee Department of Transportation was proposing a 4.4-mile extension of Interstate 140 between Old Knoxville Highway (Tenn. 33) and East Lamar Alexander Parkway (U.S. 321).

CAPPE filed suit against state and federal highway officials because the EIS hadn't been done, violating the National Environmental Policy Act.

A federal court halted the project in 2002 with an injunction. Two years later the case was remanded to Tennessee state court and the injunction was lifted so officials could begin the EIS process.

A draft of the EIS could be completed by this spring. The final draft is projected for finish one year later.