Tag Archives: roads

TDOT issues 3-year, $2B road project list

News release from state Department of Transportation
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer today released TDOT’s annual three year transportation program, featuring approximately $2 billion in infrastructure investments for 79 individual project phases in 42 counties, as well as 15 statewide programs.

The three-year program continues the state’s focus on providing a high quality state transportation network that is safe and reliable and supports Tennessee’s economic development efforts. New federal transportation funding through the FAST Act federal legislation includes a roughly two percent increase for FY 2017 over FY 2016’s funding. The FAST Act also provides some one-time flexibility that allows TDOT to tap into an additional $147 million in federal money.

These increases combined with the $100 million repayment to the highway fund in the Haslam administration’s proposed FY 16-17 budget will give the department a somewhat larger building program in the upcoming fiscal year – an estimated $965 million in FY 2017, compared to $660 million in FY 2016. Continue reading

Road projects stripped from public-private partnership bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to allow public-private partnerships for transportation projects in Tennessee is advancing in the state Legislature after sponsors said it would no longer apply to highway or bridge construction.

Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro said the measure would now only apply to mass transit projects like light rail. Ketron said that highways and bridges were removed from the legislation at the behest of the roadbuilders’ lobby.

Under the proposal, private operators would pay for the projects and then collect the fees needed to cover their costs over a period of several years before returning them to the public sector.

The Senate Transportation Committee advanced the bill (SB2093) on a 7-1 vote on Monday.

Note: See also Andrea Zelinski’s report, HERE.

Bills would boost road fund via tire sales, electric cars

While Gov. Bill Haslam continues to mull over the possibility of pushing for a gas tax increase in 2016, legislators have recently filed two bills that would add new money to the state’s highway construction and maintenance fund.

State Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, proposes in SB1451 raising to $150 to the state’s registration fee for electric cars and to $75 the fee for hybrid cars.

Electric vehicles now avoid the state’s 21-cents-per-gallon gas tax entirely while hybrid vehicles use a mix of gas and electricity, reducing the amount of fuel tax paid, but not eliminating it. The state Department of Transportation estimates the average Tennessee vehicle operator pays about $300 per year in fuel taxes (state and federal combined) at current rates.

State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, proposes in HB1445 to divert the state’s 7 percent sales tax revenue collected from the sale of tires into the highway fund. That money now goes into the state’s general fund. Legislative staff have not yet prepared a fiscal note estimating how much money would be transferred, and a spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue said the department currently has no breakdown on statewide tire sales to provide an estimate.
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UT study: TN road quality at risk with low per capita funding

News release from University of Tennessee
Tennessee spends less on a per capita basis than almost any other state on its highways and roads yet enjoys roadways that are better than those in most states. But according to a new paper produced by researchers at UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, roadway quality is now at risk unless new funding is found.

Fuel tax rates are among the lowest in the nation, yet Tennessee boasts a roadway network that has better pavement, better bridges, and less congestion than most comparable state systems. Concerns are mounting that these benefits are at risk due to a funding outlook that continues to deteriorate.

The state’s gasoline tax was last raised—from sixteen to twenty cents a gallon— more than 25 years ago, in 1989.

Currently, the state’s gasoline tax of 21.4 cents a gallon (which includes a special petroleum products tax) ranks twelfth lowest in the US, and Tennessee is one of only five states that are free of highway-related debt. Gasoline and diesel tax revenues not only support state roadways but are shared with cities and counties across the state.
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AP story on Haslam’s new list of needed roads

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is calling on state lawmakers to decide on Tennessee’s priorities on future road projects before resolving the politically tricky issue of finding a way to pay for them.

The governor said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Monday evening that he is calling for the state House and Senate transportation committees to determine which projects the state needs to complete — and how soon.

“Once we know what the need and time frame looks like, then we can talk about what would the price of that be,” Haslam said. “And only then can you say, let’s talk about ways to pay for that.”

While most lawmakers are happy to lobby for road projects in their districts, many are wary of broaching the subject of the state’s first gas tax hike since 1989. Especially in an election year.

Haslam acknowledged that increasing revenues for road funding is likely a multi-year effort, but said it will be a goal for the term-limited governor to accomplish before he leaves office in 2019 because he doesn’t expect it to be an issue a successor will want to tackle in their first few years in office.

“It’s hard for me to foresee a new governor doing that in their first year or two,” he said. “And I know that if we don’t do anything in the next five years, we’ve got a major problem.”
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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.”

Haslam on ending his 15-stop road show

News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Last week Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer wrapped up a six-week, 15-city listening tour about the state’s transportation and infrastructure challenges and opportunities, hearing specific needs from rural and urban communities to address safety, quality of life and economic development.

More than 700 state legislators, mayors, other local elected officials, business leaders, chamber of commerce executives, local infrastructure officials and community members attended the meetings with common themes emerging: the cost of transportation projects has roughly tripled in the last 20 years; and Tennesseans want the state to continue to provide a high-quality network that is safe, reliable and helps attract businesses.

Tennessee spends the third least per person on its roads and bridges while having the third ranked transportation system in the U.S.
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A review of Haslam’s road show rationale, etc

Richard Locker summarizes Gov. Bill Haslam’s road show reasoning on why the state should end inaction on increasing revenue for highway construction and observes that lots of legislators are against a gas tax in a Sunday article that begins thusly:

Tennessee last increased its gasoline tax in 1989, by 4 cents per gallon.

In the 26 years since, the U.S. consumer price index has risen 92 percent, leaving the 21.4 cents per gallon tax worth about half what it was in 1989.

Meanwhile, the average mileage a new car gets on a gallon of gas increased from 28 mpg in 1990 to 36 in 2013, the latest year for which the U.S. Department of Transportation has posted figures.

While that’s all good for consumers and the environment, it’s not good for state officials trying to maintain Tennessee’s highways and bridges. The state’s motor-fuel taxes are its second-largest source of revenue to build and repair roads and bridges, and Gov. Bill Haslam is traveling the state saying that money’s now inadequate to maintain the current transportation system — much less meet the demands of a state projected to grow by 2 million people in 25 years.

While Tennessee legislators often malign the federal government, federal taxes fund the largest share of the state’s transportation spending — $976 million, compared to $822 million from the state’s taxes. But Congress has failed to pass a traditional six-year national transportation funding bill since 2005, settling instead for short-term extensions ranging from three months to two years each.

“The federal government has become an unreliable partner” in the state-federal partnership in building and maintaining transportation infrastructure, Haslam tells dozens of state and local leaders at each of the 15 forums he’s holding across the state to make the case for new state revenue.

The federal gasoline tax also hasn’t been increased in decades, and Congress has no appetite for raising it, even though lawmakers at all levels of government continue to push for more spending for highways, bridges and other transportation projects, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said last week.

…Corker and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., proposed in January raising the federal gas tax by 12 cents per gallon over two years and indexing the rate to inflation to make up for the huge deficits in the Highway Trust Fund, which provides more than half of the country’s spending on transportation projects. The senators suggested the gas tax increase could be offset by offering other tax breaks to American families and businesses.

But Republican leaders shot down the proposal, so the two senators decided against writing and filing a bill.

“It was very evident from day one that the Republican majority was not going to entertain that kind of fiscal responsibility,” especially not between now and next year’s presidential election, Corker said of his own GOP. “To try to file a bill and to get people on record in a negative way, knowing that leadership was going to be fighting against solving the problem, it doesn’t make sense.”