Nashville MTA restores services following rains, flooding

Posted on June 17, 2010 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

[IMAGE]Nashville.jpg[/IMAGE]In May, the rain from powerful thunderstorms swelled the Cumberland River, which then flooded the streets of Nashville, Tenn., forcing the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to suspend services and begin trying to salvage its vehicles and equipment.

"Our offices and garage is close to the Cumberland River. The rain came down so heavily, it actually flooded us from the front of the building before the river even came up," said MTA's CEO Paul J. Ballard. "Then, the river came up and the two combined and that's why the water rose so quickly."

With the rain beginning on Saturday, May 1, and continuing "almost non-stop," MTA was forced to suspend service by mid-morning on Sunday and began focusing on getting all of its equipment to higher ground.

"It was pretty rough. Nashville was just devastated. There were people in town drowning in their own cars at some point," Ballard said. "We were completely out of service Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because the water stayed high and a lot of the streets were damaged so we couldn't even really get around Nashville."

MTA was able to save most of its valuable equipment, according to Ballard, losing 75 of its 201-vehicle fleet - 36 buses and 39 paratransit vans - as well as several supervisor vehicles and miscellaneous support equipment. The estimated damage MTA reported to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) totaled $30 million - $20 million in vehicles and $10 million in property. Ballard explained that the vehicle damage amount was based on replacement value instead of book value, and that it was unclear which amount FEMA would use in considering reimbursement.

FEMA could possibly cover 75 percent of the agency's losses and promised MTA a decision within seven to 10 days; however, as of press time no announcement had been made.

MTA slowly began providing services on holiday and weekend schedules, before finally resuming full services on May 24, using borrowed vehicles from operators throughout Tennessee as well as 25 buses from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority in Cincinnati.

With the flooding from the Cumberland River receding rather quickly, Ballard explained that the biggest hurdle in getting services restored to normal was not the damage to Nashville's streets, but its ability to service vehicles.

"Following the first week, we were really back to full strength with vehicles," Ballard said. "Because our garage was ruined, we had to move our normal functions to a local school bus garage and our paratransit maintenance was moved over to a Ford dealer, which limited the number of vehicles we could service and fuel."

Ballard added that it looked as if the damaged vehicles will be replaced quickly, with the MTA already placing an order for 35 paratransit vehicles scheduled to be delivered around July for its AccessRide services, and an additional 35 40-foot buses from Gillig that could be delivered by January. He also said that most of the agencies loaning their vehicles have not made any requests to get them back soon.

Although MTA employees lost about 79 personal vehicles during the flood and several had to be rescued via boat during the evacuation procedures, Ballard reported zero were injured in the field, at the facility or throughout the evacuations. He cited MTA's plan to deal with such an incident as a major factor for the accomplishment, as well being able to salvage so many of the agency's vehicles.

"We have an evacuation plan, which we followed, and that's really why we were able to get so many of the buses to safety and report zero injuries," Ballard said. "All in all, it's a nasty thing to have to go through, but I think we're actually better for it."


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