By Jay Powell via Columbia Daily Herald
The Columbia City Council received an update on the state’s road and bridge projects last week from Tennessee Department of Transportation deputy commissioner/chief engineer, Paul Degges.
Degges discussed Gov. Haslam’s recent listening tour and his proposal to raise the state’s gas tax for the first time since the 1980s. He said there will be a need for more road funding with the expected population growth in the region.
“Through most of 2016, we were putting a list of projects out, a lot of stuff we were working on … but there’s also new projects as well. Another thing the governor heard is that bridges on local roads are a real issue, because most city and county transportation departments are maintenance agencies,” Degges said. “They can do an OK job at keeping the pavement looking good, but bridges are budget busters, and I know here in Maury County and the city of Columbia there are some bridge issues going on.”
The proposed increase would add seven cents to the gas tax and a 12-cent increase on diesel tax. There would also be an additional $5 charged for personal vehicle registration, $10 for commercial vehicles and $20 for heavy trucks.
In addition, there would be decreases in other taxes to offset the increased fuel taxes, Degges said.
“Our analysis will show it will cost the average Tennessean about a dollar a week, $4 a month would be the increase. The big debate right now is a lot of members of the General Assembly think it’s probably not the best way to do it, but why don’t we divert some existing dollars the citizens are already paying,” Degges said. “That’s the debate right now, but I’m only the engineer.”
TDOT receives about $.5 billion annually in federal dollars for new projects. The issue, he said, is by the time money is spent on maintenance of existing structures, the department is left with few state dollars to invest in its more than 960-project backlog.
“We get federal dollars and state dollars to build and maintain our infrastructure, and the last time there was a revenue increase was back in 1989. We’ve tried to be very good stewards, and Tennessee is one of only five states that does not borrow money to build roads,” Degges said. “I don’t want to give anybody the idea that the sky is falling … but the issue we’ve got is we’ve got a lot of people knocking on our door.”
When it came to Columbia, council members identified three main roads TDOT should focus on: Bear Creek Pike, Trotwood Avenue and U.S. Highway 31 at Nashville Highway. These are the most traveled areas in Columbia, working as gateway roads to citizens, tourists and residents from Mt. Pleasant and Spring Hill.
Vice Mayor Christa Martin added that other roads leading to the main highways will also need to be addressed, along with the bridge on Iron Bridge Road, which is 15th on TDOT’s list of bridge projects.
“As we develop Maury County, Tennessee, there are some roads that lead to Nashville Highway, Bear Creek Pike and Trotwood. There are a lot of people coming off of those roads and they’re taking the brunt of the traffic too,” Martin said. “[Iron Bridge Road] is a problem bridge, a one-lane bridge, and it’s taking traffic coming off of Tom Hitch Parkway into one of our heavily-traveled roads to get you into downtown Columbia.”