Putting a new bridge across the Tennessee River in North Hamilton County will require the state to break its longtime “pay as you go” habit, state Transportation Commissioner John Schroer told Chattanooga area leaders Wednesday.
Further from the Chattanooga TFP: With a tight squeeze on road money, the state would have to enter “uncharted territory,” selling bonds or partnering with private investors to build the bridge and connector roads and repaying them with toll revenues, he said.
“If tolling is not an option, this bridge probably won’t be built — I won’t say forever, but for a long, long time,” Schroer said during a briefing for the county’s toll committee.
However, if the state does make the leap, a toll of $3 for cars and $4.50 for two-axle trucks would raise enough to build and operate the bridge for 40 years and repay the debt, a consultant told members of the Hamilton County Commission-appointed toll committee.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam and Transportation Commissioner John Schroer have released a 3-year transportation plan for the state.
The $1.5 billion plan includes improvements to the interstate system, such as truck climbing lanes and interchange reconstruction.
It also funds projects along strategic corridors such as U.S. 27 in Roane, Morgan and Scott counties; U.S. 79 in Carroll and Gibson counties; and U.S. 64 in Middle and West Tennessee.
Other priorities include projects aimed at stimulating economic development, such as the reconstruction of the interchange at I-40 and SR 222 to facilitate access to the West Tennessee Megasite in Haywood and Fayette Counties.
The plan also provides funding for local transit agencies and planning organizations, shortline railways and bridges, and airport improvements.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam says declining gas tax revenues will be a major problem facing the state over the next decade.
But the Republican governor told reporters on Monday that he doesn’t plan to introduce any proposals to overhaul the system in the upcoming legislative session.
Haslam said in recent budget hearings that while it’s encouraging that cars are becoming more fuel efficient, that trend also means the state stands to collect less from its 21.4-cent tax on each gallon of gas.
Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said in the hearing that he has met with the heads of the House and Senate transportation committees about the issue.
Schroer told the governor that officials must “figure out before it’s too late how we’re going to systematically fund transportation in the future.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Department of Transportation has hired a new chief environment and planning officer and replaced a green logo introduced by his Democratic predecessor.
The new logo (previous post HERE) features the department’s TDOT acronym on a red field patterned on the Tennessee flag and in the shape of the state’s boundaries. It replaces a green-themed symbol introduced by former Gov. Phil Bredesen as part of an effort to emphasize environmental priorities.
Adetokunbo “Toks” Omishakin, director of healthy living initiatives for Nashville mayor Karl Dean, takes over the vacant position of TDOT’s assistant commissioner for environment and planning on Monday. (previous post HERE)
Transportation commissioner John Schroer previously elevated his top engineer, Paul Degges, and new chief administrator, Joseph Galbato III, to deputy commissioners. But Omishakin remains at the lower assistant commissioner level.
Those positions were placed on equal footing with the environmental chief under Bredesen — to stress that environmental and community priorities would carry the same weight as engineering plans. The move was heavily criticized at the time by the influential road builders lobby.
Degges’ promotion carried a 44-percent raise to $138,500 a year. TDOT did not immediately provide salary information for Omishakin or Galbato.
Apparently, Transportation Commissioner John Schroer is getting an earful as well as an eyeful in his “Orange Barrel Tour” of highway and bridge construction projects around the state, judging by Jim Balloch’s report on Thursday’s TDOT travels. An excerptL Schroer’s brief visit to the downtown Knoxville project Thursday was just one of many stops on TDOT’s latest tour of major construction projects and sites of planned projects in East Tennessee.
Schroer and other TDOT officials have been traveling around the region in a bus, getting a first hand look — and affording local officials and residents a chance to talk to him about whatever projects were on their minds.
The Henley project also is the site of a pair of tragedies — the deaths of two workers in separate accidents on the bridge. Following the accidents, all projects by the contractor were temporarily suspended for a safety review, then resumed.
“While we are confident that all of the necessary safety precautions are in place and TDOT is continuing to closely monitor this work site, we realize this line of work can be dangerous,” Schroer said.
The project is scheduled for completion in 2013.
“Work is continuing at a steady pace,” Schroer said. “We look forward to its completion, which will bring a newer, safer bridge to Tennessee travelers.”
Schroer’s other stops on Thursday included Sevier, Blount and Campbell counties.
In Knoxville, he also visited the intersection of Tazewell Pike and Emory Road, and Maynardville Highway from Temple Acres to the Union County line, the Interstate 640/North Broadway interchange, and Tazewell Pike from Baum Road to north of McCamey Road.
Officials and residents alike have taken advantage of the tours to speak with Schroer or other TDOT officials about projects under way or planned for the future.
Schroer said the most common question asked is, “When are you going to start?”
In Greeneville, he said, about 40 people asked him about the proposed Greeneville Bypass around U.S. 11-E. “And that is probably 10 years away,” he said.
In Sevier County, he met with homeowners whose houses are in the path a project, according to the original design plan, Schroer said.
“I don’t know if we can (save their homes), but I gave my word that we would look at it and take it into consideration,” he said.
State Reps. Bill Dunn, and Harry Brooks, both Knoxville Republicans, caught up with Schroer.
Dunn said, “I brought my maps to plead my case” for improvements in the Emory Road area. “And when I noticed (the bus was) not scheduled to get on Emory Road, I got them to divert their path, so they could see the desperate needs of the Powell community. The problem is really self evident.”
Dunn said he was assured that construction of a new, wider road, to parallel Emory Road between Gill Road and Clinton Highway, remains scheduled to begin in the spring
James A. “Jimmy” Haslam III, CEO of Pilot Flying J and a board member of the National Truck Stop Operators Association, is urging state and federal lawmakers to block further “commercialization” of highway rest stops.
In his home state of Tennessee, where Haslam’s brother is governor, his viewpoint appears likely to prevail — at least for now. Several state legislators, while saying they are willing to explore the idea if it helps the state budget, also say they have no plans to push it.
And John Schroer, the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam, is opposed to such rest stop privatization efforts in Tennessee.
Current federal law generally prohibits states from setting up commercial operations at rest stops along Interstate highways except those states — mostly in the Northeast — where Interstates were in place before 1960. But some states and organizations are pushing for change in the law by Congress at a time when state governments are seeking new revenue.
“While at first glance this may seem like an easy way for state DOTs to generate revenue, the fact is it will devastate private businesses like mine that for the last 50 years have operated under the current law and established locations at the highway exits,” said Haslam in his letter. “The advantageous location of state-owned commercial rest areas establishes virtual monopolies on the sale of commercial services to highway travelers.”
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Transportation chief says staff changes he is making don’t signal a retreat from sweeping reforms implemented by former Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Commissioner John Schroer, responding to an Associated Press report, said Friday that it would be a “leap” to conclude that he’s de-emphasizing environmental concerns after promoting his chief engineer to become his deputy.
Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has confirmed that TDOT’s chief administrator, top environmental officer and director of project management are each leaving.
The deputy commissioner position had been eliminated in the Bredesen administration as part of a series of moves that had been heavily criticized by the influential road builders lobby.
Bredesen instead placed the chief engineer and director of environment and planning on equal footing as part of an effort to improve TDOT’s poor environmental record and reputation for ignoring local governments and communities when deciding where to put roads.
Schroer said the promotion of top engineer Paul Degges to deputy commissioner doesn’t indicate a return to pre-Bredesen priorities.
“I don’t understand that leap,” said Schroer. “One won’t be over the other one — environment and planning will still directly report to me.”
A TDOT spokeswoman said before the AP report appeared that Schroer declined to give an interview about changes at the department, which also may include a redesign of the green TDOT logo created by the Bredesen administration.