Gov. Bill Haslam will bring his transportation tour to Murfreesboro this fall to discuss Tennessee’s infrastructure needs and presumably gauge support for a gas-tax increase.
The Republican governor, who has said he is committed to raising Tennessee’s 20-cent gas tax, will travel the state with Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer for six weeks to raise awareness about roadway function, capacity and safety and the system’s connection to economic development in urban and rural areas.
Tennessee’s transportation and infrastructure system ranks high nationwide, even though it holds no debt for road construction, but “we know we have challenges on the horizon,” the governor said in a statement today.
“We know that we can’t depend on the federal government to be the funding partner it once was. We also know that as our infrastructure ages, maintenance becomes more important and more expensive. And we know that maintaining our roads is only part of the equation,” Haslam said. “Right now we have a multi-billion dollar backlog of highway projects across this state that address key access, safety and economic development issues and that’s only going to grow.”
Tennessee’s fuel tax is 21.4 cents per gallon, including 1.4 cents for a special petroleum fee, and nets the state $657.8 million annually. Yet it is the 40th lowest fuel tax in the nation and hasn’t been raised in years.
The state Department of Transportation has an $8 billion backlog of construction projects, in addition to pressing mass transit needs, officials say.
State Sen. Jim Tracy, a Bedford County Republican who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said he’s glad to see the governor traveling the state with Washington mired in “gridlock” over transportation funding.
“I applaud him for his outreach with local communities to see what their needs are and what may be the best solution to their problems,” Tracy, who represents part of Rutherford County, said in a statement. “I don’t believe there is a golden bullet to solve the transportation funding issue in our state, but getting the input of Tennesseans across the state is a good first step.”
The governor’s first meeting is set for Aug. 5 in Memphis, and 14 more are scheduled into early September statewide, including Murfreesboro.
State lawmakers and local elected leaders and economic recruiters are expected to participate.
“TDOT is responsible for taking care of the assets we already have, for implementing current projects in the most cost-effective way and for planning for the state’s infrastructure needs of the future,” Schroer said. “In putting together a long-range plan, we look to Tennessee communities to help prioritize those projects to make sure we’re addressing evolving traffic patterns, population growth, safety issues and the many other things that impact our infrastructure. These conversations are invaluable to the process.”