Governor seeks to re-energize push for road funding

Gov. Bill Haslam sought to re-energize his drive for more Tennessee transportation funding on Tuesday, urging a statewide coalition of local officials and road builders to help him explain to both the public and reluctant lawmakers about the state’s needs, reports the Times-Free Press.

“I think that’s where we are — in the position of defining reality,” Haslam told the conference of the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee (meeting in Murfreesboro).

The Republican listed problems that include a $6 billion backlog of state projects. And he warned a temporary one-year fix envisioned by lawmakers — restoring $280 million taken by his two predecessors from the road fund — is no long-term solution.

“What you can do is spread this message out there about how critical the challenge is for us around infrastructure in this state,” Haslam told the group. “And why we need to help everybody understand the importance of making certain that we pass along to our kids and grandkids as good of a system of roads and bridges as we got from our parents and grandparents.”

Tennessee, he said, has the third-best road system in America while spending the third-least per vehicle mile among states. That’s been done without issuing any bonded debt like most states, the governor said.

While people “take great pride in Tennessee being a conservative state, it is not conservative to pass along something that’s in worse shape than when you got it,” he said, referring to the state’s roads.

And the governor even touched on specific funding, which he has been loathe to do in the past.

Noting that, as governor, it’s often possible to “avoid the real hard issues and let somebody else do that, here’s the reality on the gas tax. Made it through the first term. It was great. While I’m governor, to be honest with you, if we didn’t do anything the roads would probably stay in comparatively good shape.

“We’d still be better than our neighbors,” Haslam added. “But that’s not the right thing to do” because it would lead “toward not having any kind of system we’re accustomed to.”