Gov. Bill Haslam and Transportation Commissioner John Schroer have finished their statewide listening tour on highway projects.
State officials spent the past six weeks discussed a large backlog of unfunded transportation projects with legislators, city officials and business leaders. The $6.1 billion backlog includes approximately $300 million in Chattanooga-area projects. Tennessee spends the third-least per capita on roads and projects.
“Our challenge is how we as a state address critical transportation needs as cars and trucks get better and better mileage and the cost of building and maintaining our roads and bridges continues to increase,” Haslam said in a statement.
In Chattanooga last week, the governor said the scope of the problem is too big to “miraculously fund those projects with nickels and dimes.”
Haslam said then he is not certain what if any proposal he will bring forward in the next legislative session. He has not ruled out an increase to the state’s gas tax. But he has said he does not want Tennessee taking on additional debt or building toll roads, as other states have done.
“When it comes time to pass Tennessee’s infrastructure system on to the next generation, we want to be able to do what our parents and grandparents did, which is give them a system free of debt and of the highest quality in the nation,” he said.
State transportation revenues are not keeping up with the cost of maintaining current infrastructure. As vehicles become more fuel-efficient and drivers pay less per mile for gas, construction is becoming more expensive.
Many lawmakers have stated their opposition to raising the gas tax by way of a survey from Americans for Prosperity of Tennessee.
State Sen. Jim Tracy and state Rep. Eddie Smith filed legislation that would restore approximately $261 million in Tennessee highway funding. They said the funds were “raided” from 2001 to 2007 for general government operations.
“After a careful review of the state revenue surplus and the challenges facing Tennessee with infrastructure funding, we brought this bill to put our financial house back in order,” Smith said.
Tracy, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, is planning his own statewide tour that begins in Nashville this week and will bring him to Chattanooga Oct. 28.
“I want to hear from a wide variety of citizens and community leaders regarding these options, as well as other suggestions about what we can do to improve our roads,” he said.