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Sen. Ketron makes the case for monorail

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Weary of the long and frustrating drive to Nashville, state Sen. Bill Ketron is continuing a fight for high-speed rail, an expensive proposition at roughly $1.3 billion, yet one he believes could be taken on through public-private partnerships.

The Murfreesboro Republican is leading the study for a method enabling Tennessee to work with investors to back construction and operation of high-speed rail into Nashville's doughnut counties such as Rutherford.

Ketron said the process is in its earliest stages.

"We'll probably start some type of bill to start the study. At least it's showing a move forward," he said recently.

With Rutherford County's population expected to hit roughly 450,000 in the next 25 years, Ketron believes it won't be long before Murfreesboro-area residents could make a quicker commute to Chattanooga than to Nashville. A typical rush-hour drive to and from Nashville takes about an hour and 30 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes.

The Regional Transit Authority is planning to increase the number of bus routes it makes into Rutherford County in an effort to improve efficiency. Ketron, however, doesn't believe people will ride the buses and is keeping his options open for a monorail footprint across the region despite the price tag.

Tennessee Department of Transportation officials say no right of way remains to widen I-24 from Murfreesboro to Nashville, according to the senator.

With those limitations in mind, Ketron believes monorails can be built on interstate right of way, causing little impact because support piers are small and easily clearing structures such as overpasses. Such a system could be erected in two years and carry 55,000 people daily, he said.

The state would back the investment with its credit rating over 30 years, Ketron said, but private investors could be enlisted to pay for monorail operation. Ketron said he has met with representatives of McGraw-Hill out of New York, the former book publisher now in financial markets, who are bringing together private-sector investors to get involved in this type of transportation.

Private companies would be enticed with the opportunity get a return on their investment through gate fees, advertisements, wine and cheese sales and even though contracting with Starbucks to sell coffee on board, he said.

Writer Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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