Gov. Bill Haslam handed a $600,000 check to the mayor of Clarksville Thursday for construction of a “greenway” project, the latest of about 20 “enhancement grants” from federal funds distributed by the state.
While the oversized check said it was from the state Department of Transportation, Haslam credited the federal government.
“We like to beat up on Congress and say all the things they’re doing wrong, but every now and then, they get it right.”
Haslam says the federal program works because decisions on how to spend the money are made locally.
Through the enhancement grants, more than $270 million has been spent on non-traditional transportation projects in Tennessee. Many have been used to revitalize downtown areas or highlight historic attractions.
News release from Department of Transportation:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined state and local officials today to announce the award of a $818,880 transportation enhancement grant to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development for Phase III of the Civil War Driving Trail.
The Civil War Driving Trail is a multi-phased program that has established a statewide network of directional and historical signage to be used in conjunction with the Tennessee Civil War map/guide and applicable map/guides developed by individual localities.
“This program has created a more easily accessible, user friendly system for travelers to follow as they explore sites and transportation corridors associated with the American Civil War in Tennessee,” said Governor Haslam. “It also encourages partnerships between state agencies and local communities. I’m proud the State of Tennessee can make investments like this to enhance local communities for the benefit of citizens and visitors alike.”
The grant is made possible through a federally funded program administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
“Through Transportation Enhancement grants, TDOT has funded more than $259 million in non-traditional transportation projects,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “Established by Congress in the early 1990’s, the program supports activities designed to strengthen the cultural, aesthetic and environmental aspects of the nation’s transportation system.”
The Tennessee Civil War Trails program is both a freestanding, statewide program and a part of the existing 700-site, three-state Civil War Trails program which has been developed through similar grant funding. The project will encourage and reward local governments and private sector participants that establish, promote and maintain the program in their areas.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam says a new project completes a “monumental effort” to preserve the Gray Fossil Site in Washington County.
In a statement released in Nashville, Haslam said a recent $145,000 enhancement grant for the site helps create a unique educational opportunity for those who visit it.
The site was unearthed in 2000 by a state crew cutting a road through the property. It has since produced a rich supply of animal fossils, including dozens of tapirs.
Haslam said the site’s visitor center in its three years of operation has welcomed more than 250,000 visitors from all 50 states and several foreign countries.
The latest project represents the completion of the grounds and visitor amenities for the visitor center.
East Tennessee State University operates the site.
Construction of roads — along with greenways, bike trails and other community projects — could be grinding to a crawl as the federal government cuts transportation funding and requires more local financial participation when handing out what’s left.
The Federal Highway Administration this summer rescinded $51.9 million in promised funding for Tennessee roads and tightened the rules on providing “enhancement” money to other transportation-related projects.
With the exception of the surge of federal stimulus dollars in 2009, such cutbacks have been a trend for the past decade. Paul Degges, chief engineer for the state Department of Transportation, estimates $463 million in such broken promises since 2002.
Current funding stands at $900 million — down from 2009’s $1.3 billion. For the federal government’s fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, Tennessee is optimistically expecting about $850 million.
Further shrinkage seems inevitable. The basic federal highway budget has been authorized on a temporary basis in past years and the latest stopgap expires Sept. 30.
While the state is bracing itself for a possible downgrade in its bond rating, Gov. Bill Haslam is handing out jumbo checks to fund quarter-million-dollar courthouse sidewalks, $600,000 bike trails and other such “non-traditional transportation projects.”
More from an Andrea Zelinski article:
“Programs like this will be a lot harder to come by in the future,” Haslam said after announcing a $69,700 walkway project in Spring Hill. “Already, the amount of money we have for enhancement grants are a lot less than it was five years ago.”
The governor has lately been swinging through West and Middle Tennessee to pose for photo ops with local elected leaders as he doles out roughly $12 million in “transportation enhancement grants.” Similar announcements are expected to continue through September, according to the state Department of Transportation.
One announced Wednesday included $279,000 for a sidewalk improvement project in Chester County. Another $360,000 will help the city of Bells begin revitalizing its downtown with new sidewalks, lightpoles and landscaping. And another $600,000 will go toward a three-and-a-half mile-long hiking-biking trail from Cookeville to Algood.
Something just doesn’t feel right about that in the current economic climate, says Justin Owen, executive director of the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research.
“At a time when our state and nation face a fiscal crunch, it appears that spending on ‘aesthetic’ and ‘cultural’ aspects of transportation is code for wasteful spending on political pet projects. Now is not the time to be spending millions of taxpayer dollars on pretty flowers and fancy lights,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
Franklin’s Civil War-themed city park got a jolt of $500,000 Wednesday, pushing a long-planned project closer to one day becoming the tourist haven its supporters contend it will be, according to the Tennessean.
Standing on the Carnton Plantation museum’s porch, Gov. Bill Haslam announced the money as part of a state road enhancement grant, touting its importance to tourism and quality of life.
“We choose these enhancement grants very selectively,” Haslam said. “We always do it with the idea of ‘How can we add to the quality of life?’ We’re confident this project does that.”
Franklin will spend a little more than $300,000 beyond the state grant to build an access road off Lewisburg Pike. Officials estimate more than 40,000 visitors annually.
Purchased for $5 million in 2006, the eastern flank of the Battle of Franklin park is a former golf course that adjoins the Carnton Plantation property off Lewisburg Pike.