The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee); November 25, 2005 Friday 1st Edition “Landport waits to hum as commuter hub” There

are padlocked gates instead of buses along the empty gray ramps of the Clement Landport in downtown Nashville. And judging from the excessive droppings, the only commuters using the alternative transportation facility are birds. That picture represents a stark contrast to what once was envisioned as the hub of a bustling regional passenger system -- one that would integrate bus service, commercial and light rail, car and van pools, bicyclists, airport and hotel shuttles and a possible return of Amtrak. It was to be the central stop for commuters or visitors coming in and out of the city and a one-stop link to all other modes of transportation -- a small version of Grand Central Station in New York City. The now-vacant landport, built for $4.6 million primarily with federal funds, can be seen as either a facility primed for the emergence of alternative transportation or an ill-timed, misguided project destined for civic eyesore status. "I'm not worried about whether people view it as a waste of money or a misguided vision," said Bob Clement, the former congressman who helped get the federal appropriation to build it. The facility bears his name. "It's going to happen," Clement said of a Nashville public transportation heyday, "and when it does, we've already got a central transit center in place." The landport, behind Nashville's Union Station, rests on concrete stilts between 10th and 12th avenues, and rises above 11th Avenue and several sets of train tracks in the Gulch below. While the road to landport construction was smooth -- funds secured, contracts signed and construction completed in less than three years -- a bumpy ride followed. A notable pothole was this year's demolition of the Demonbreun Street viaduct, where the landport's access ramps were connected. In 2002, Metro was forced to close the overpass to all heavy vehicles, including buses, because of safety concerns. That forced the Metro Transit Authority to reroute the 15 daily buses that served the landport and close its office there. Clement and other supporters originally hoped MTA would use the landport as a replacement for the overcrowded Deaderick Street terminus, which is the hub for nearly all MTA bus routes in and out of downtown. "I personally like the landport concept, but we won't use the landport as an expansion site for our operations," said Paul Ballard, MTA's chief executive officer, adding that MTA is looking to expand its existing downtown hub on Deaderick. Ballard said MTA would adjust routes to serve the landport if needed but thinks any future for the facility hinges on the miles and miles of steel rail that run alongside it.

"The (commuter) trains have to come," Ballard said. "If they don't, I'm not sure the landport will have much value." Commuter rail planners have traveled their own rocky road but are just months away from christening the eastern leg of the Music City Star. The line will link Nashville and Lebanon but end at a new riverfront station at the foot of Broadway, blocks away from the landport. The landport does, however, rate a mention as part of a proposed future line. "We are including Clement Landport as a possible stop as part of the southeast corridor transit study currently under way," said transit planner James McAteer of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Clement's hope is that the southeast corridor will run right up to the landport, along with northeastern, southern and southwestern corridors. But Regional Transit Authority officials cautioned that no decisions have been made about where the lines would run and where the trains would stop, because the project remains in the conceptual stage. They agree the landport could be a logical place for trains to stop, since it is alongside existing CSX lines that rail planners want to tap into. The eastern leg runs on a Nashville & Eastern rail line. "CSX has the majority of the rail lines, and we need to go through CSX to make commuter rail happen," said Bill Farquhar, RTA's director of commuter rail. He said he could see the landport becoming viable if the rail project runs on or near an existing CSX line. But even if the commuter rail system doesn't jump-start the landport, the facility could still offer value, supporters say. "Look, rail is important, but what's more crucial is modality," said Clement, referring to combining various modes of transportation: shuttles, van pools, light rail, commuter rail, buses, etc. "We need to rebuild our transportation infrastructure in this country," and the landport can be a key part of that type of change, he added. Few question Clement's resolve. For 15 years, until 2003, he occupied the 5th District congressional seat in Washington, serving on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which included stints on railroad and highways and transit subcommittees. In the early 1990s, he helped rewrite a national transportation formula for determining where federal funds go. "Tennessee was a 'giveback' state, and we had to change that formula. The state would send more money to Washington than it got back," he said. "Once the formula was changed, the federal transportation funding jumped from $360 million to $740 million." Clement then tapped into that pot for landport funding. "Now with money for Tennessee, the issue becomes where to spend it," said Clement. "It needs to be spent wisely and where growth is." The area around the landport, known as the Gulch, is primed for growth, which could bode well for a landport resurrection, according to MTA's Ballard.

"The Demonbreun viaduct is being built, and the Gulch development is really taking off, so my take on this is all the pieces are there to make a transportation hub work perfectly," he said. While the landport was built in what appears to be a most logical location, its fate could have been much different. "I had to fight to get it built next to the rails," said Clement. He eventually won the battle with former Mayor Phil Bredesen, who thought it should be built at Fifth and Demonbreun to tie in to his downtown arena plan for the site that's now home of the Gaylord Entertainment Center. A smaller MTA transit port later was built at that location. The landport's best hope now is success of the commuter rail system, which hinges on the outcome of difficult negotiations to gain access to rail lines privately owned by CSX. "I think CSX will come around and be a good corporate citizen," Clement said. "They have to understand they are not just in the rail business; they are in the transportation business." The last battle would be selling the grand plan of an interlinking transit hub to the public, proponents say. In a region where the "car is king," according to McAteer, getting people to buy into alternative modes of travel won't be easy. "We are breaking down some misconceptions about alternative transportation," Clement said. "It will take persistence, but anybody who knows me knows that's not a problem." o Life of the landport Once tabbed as the "structure to take Nashville into the 21st century" by the city native whose name adorns it, the Clement Landport was envisioned as the hub of a regional intermodal passenger system. On three acres between 10th and 11th avenues directly behind Union Station and just west of Cummins Station, the multilevel facility was built to provide links for commuter rail, car and van pools, local and regional buses, hotel and airport shuttles, bicyclists and the possible return of interstate passenger rail. Key events in the life of the landport: 1979 -- Amtrak ends rail service in Nashville, eliminating passenger trains from Union Station. 1991 -- Congress passes a $153 billion Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act earmarked to rebuild the country's transportation infrastructure. 1995 --Local transportation agencies (MTA, RTA and Metropolitan Planning Organization) commission a study to gauge the feasibility of commuter rail. 1995 -- U.S. Rep. Bob Clement secures $3.6 million in federal funds for a "landport" that he envisions as an eventual hub for a regional intermodal passenger system. 1997 -- Construction begins on the landport in the railroad Gulch behind Union Station just south of Demonbreun Street. 1998 -- With a final cost of $4.6 million, the Clement Landport officially opens, serving as an MTA transfer point for van pools, airport and hotel shuttles and commuters who choose to park there.

2002 -- The state finds the Demonbreun Street viaduct unsafe for bus traffic, halting landport operations. 2004 -- The viaduct is demolished and plans to rebuild by 2007 are approved. 2005 -- A study is financed and launched for a southeast commuter rail line that would run from Murfreesboro to Nashville.