Music City Star to mute whistle in Mt. Juliet

Robertson said he wasn’t sure how much the liability insurance will cost the city, but that it “wasn’t an unreasonable amount.” He added that since Mt. Juliet is the first city in the state to have a quiet zone such as this it was very much a learning experience for everyone involved.

“No one had asked the questions that would facilitate a quiet zone,” he said. “This is a first for many people.”

Robertson said he was told that it would take five to six months after the execution of the contract with Nashville and Eastern Railroad because they (the railroad) are in charge of acquiring and installing the equipment necessary for a quiet zone through Mt. Juliet. He said he understands that some of the equipment will be used and could come from other railroads from across the country.

The commuter train has recently fallen upon some financial troubles, however, authorities announced last week. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is stepping forward in an effort to reorganize public transportation in Middle Tennessee and to also provide some financial incentives for the Music City Star but only if local government is willing to step up its own individual contributions.           TDOT officials are telling officials with the Regional Transportation Agency which operates the Music City Star that state government is willing to provide enough revenue to cover a portion of the commuter rail’s financial shortfalls but in order for that to happen there will be strings attached.

Among the contingencies proposed by TDOT for the added $1 million-plus in revenue, three local governments in Wilson County will have to increase their funding for the commuter system by $100,000 annually and the RTA will have to relinquish certain management and operations responsibilities to the Metro Transit Authority. The cities of Lebanon and Mt. Juliet and Wilson County government are now paying $20,000 annually each to help supplement the operation of the commuter system.

Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam said Monday that Diane Thorne, executive director of the RTA, met with city commissioners about a month ago and explained the “shortfall” in the Star’s budget. Elam said as a “feeler,” Thorne made the proposal that Wilson County, Lebanon and Mt. Juliet could contribute the $100,000 in new money per year. It was the mayor’s understanding that the Star would get Federal money in 2010 to repay the additional $100,000 in loans to the county and cities.

Elam said she asked for something from the RTA in writing, which she received, and so she put it on the June 23 commission agenda to discuss with the city commissioners. When commissioners got to the table on June 23, they found out that RTA had called and asked for the item to be deferred, or removed from the agenda. Elam said at this time there has been no discussion by city commissioners “as to their thoughts on the matter.”

“We’re willing to listen,” Elam said, and added that there was some confusion as to whether the money would be a loan or an “out and out grant.”When asked if Mt. Juliet has the money to allocate to the RTA, Elam said that the city “doesn’t have $100,000 just looking for a place to go, but with very careful budgeting and consideration” it could be done.

Elam said the quiet zone will cost around $300,000, which is included in the budget, but city officials are looking for additional alleviation where they can find it, whether through grants or Federal assistance. She said if the city had help with the $300,000 that would “help budgeting availability to do what the RTA is asking (giving the additional $100,000).”

Elam said she did not know when the proposal would be back on the city commission agenda.

Robertson said the city has the $300,000 to install the quiet zone, but that the city is “looking to reduce that amount with deals with TDOT.” He would not disclose the “deals,” in case, he said, they fall through.

Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet.