Federal Highway Bill Doesn't Solve Tennessee's Road Woes, Officials Say | Nashville Public Radio

Federal Highway Bill Doesn't Solve Tennessee's Road Woes, Officials Say

Dec 7, 2015

Tennessee's transportation commissioner says the $300 billion highway bill passed last week by Congress won't solve Tennessee's road-funding woes.

He says it would take 50 years, at current construction rates, to address all of the state's needs.

Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said Friday that getting the long-awaited federal funding bill is a relief because it will let the state move forward with projects that otherwise would have been interrupted.

"It takes off some pressure because we now know that we've got five years of funding in play. So we can put that worry off, and that was a big worry for us."

But this won't be the end of the debate over whether to raise Tennessee's gas tax.

Schroer said, as he presented the Tennessee Department of Transportation's proposed budget for next year, the federal highway bill merely extends existing funding for roads. Next year, the state expects to receive about $963 million from the federal government — money it has already committed to projects.

That figure will rise steadily over the course of the five-year bill. But only enough to cover inflation, TDOT officials say.

It will make barely a dent in the state's construction backlog. Schroer said that, unless funding increases, the state would not be able to complete all of the projects that have been promised until the 2060s.

Poll: Tennesseans back gas tax increase

Schroer stopped short of saying that means Tennessee's gas tax should be increased. The tax hasn't gone up in more than two decades.

Tennesseans may be coming around to the idea of a gas tax hike. A new poll from Vanderbilt University finds that a majority of the state's voters would support increasing the tax by 2 to 8 cents a gallon — a result that didn't surprise Haslam.

"I think people out there get it and get the need. And I think if you actually then would tie that to specific projects, I think you'd see even more positive reaction to it."

That support, says Haslam, could be enough to bring reluctant state lawmakers around.