State to gain fed highway money under new law

The new federal transportation act that won Congressional approval Thursday will send an additional $300 million to $400 million to Tennessee over the next five years but it won’t relieve the need for new state transportation funding, officials told Gov. Bill Haslam Friday.

Further from Richard Locker:

There was no discussion of a state fuel tax hike in TDOT’s budget hearing with the Governor Friday…Instead, much of the discussion focused on the new five-year federal transportation funding act.

…The new five-year act is a welcome change, (Transportation Commissioner John) Schroer and TDOT Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer Paul Degges told the governor, because it provides stability for an extended period. The TDOT officials said uncertainty in federal funding, which comprises just over half of TDOT’s funding, makes it difficult to schedule long-term projects.

…Degges said the federal bill “is going to help us. The federal side is fixed now. Our concern is with state dollars. Our state dollars are flat and will remain flat. The federal money requires a 20 percent match. So there’s that pressure.”

The federal act contains no increase in financial aid to the state next year but over its five-year life is estimated to channel between $300 million and $400 million in federal money to the state for transportation projects, the TDOT officials said.

“It takes off some pressure because we now know we have five years of funding in place, so we can take that worry off. And that was a big worry for us,” the commissioner said. “If you get funded every six months and you don’t know if you’re going to get funded it makes a big difference in how you operate your business.”

Asked by reporters why there was no discussion of a state transportation funding increase, Schroer said, “We have a need for projects across the state and how they get funded is up to the legislature.”

And this note on the Transportation budget hearing from the Times-Free Press:
Meanwhile, the commissioner said his efforts to cut down on costly private consulting firms’ work on behalf of the department by moving the engineering, planning and other work back in house is saving the state some $28 million.

In the latest move, Schroer intends to fill another 1,100 positions in addition to the 3,300 workers already working for TDOT. Schroerer and other officials say reliance of private firms had extended into too many areas and were costing as much as three times the amount spent if done by state employees.