John Roberts attended Page High School in his youth. Now an adult, his sixteen-year-old daughter drives along Arno Road, the county’s most dangerous stretch, to get to school.
“It’s not a fun thought every morning, ‘I hope she gets there,’” Roberts said to county commissioners during a meeting to discuss Williamson County traffic strategy Wednesday evening.
In a slideshow presentation to county commissioners, a county-hired consultant team presented viable options to alleviate traffic congestion in an area that is experiencing rapid expansion. They then discussed methods to raise funds.
The county’s comprehensive land use plan is now ten years old, and consultants said it needs to be updated. Road improvements identified under the county’s major thoroughfare plan, devised in 2011, and results from the major corridors study in 2016, require $378 million in funding.
Options included a county-wide tax increase, a property tax and wheel tax increase, a property tax increase along the unincorporated area road, a transportation utility fee, and an unincorporated area transportation utility fee.
The option to tax county residents who live within the unincorporated area seemed unpopular. County Commissioner Barb Sturgeon questioned the idea.
“Why was there even a column for only unincorporated people paying? I don’t understand why you would even think that, when they’re only 24 percent of the total use,” she said, referring to the prior presented traffic studies.
Project consultants warned that several options were less desirable, as they wouldn’t raise the needed funds for the proposed project, like increasing the gas and sales tax. But other options aren’t without flaws.
One thoroughly discussed idea is that of a transportation fee. With this idea, individual households and businesses would be charged a utility fee based on how much they travel county roads. This is not currently legal in the state of Tennessee.
“We tried to raise the wheel tax in 2006,” Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson reminded the commission on the difficulties of raising taxes. “Just $25 and it was beat 75 percent.”
Planning commissioner Robin Baldree, who lives on Arno Road, agreed with Roberts, and stated that time is of the essence.
“We definitely need to make these improvements now versus waiting for it to go through three or four years and trying to get the state to do something that they may or may not do,” she said. “Seventy-five percent of our taxes go to our schools. We need to improve the roads for our kids and our citizens here.”
“It concerns me that we have to wait until something tragic happens,” Roberts said. “It should be safety number one,” he concluded. “And don’t worry about the politics. Just do the right thing.”