Tracy wants state to address $6B highway funding backlog

Friday, April 24, 2015

Tennessee has $6 billion in bridge and highway projects that are on the back burner because there's no money to pay for them, and Marshall County's state senator says he wants to talk about the problem.

State Sen. Jim Tracy, who chairs the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee, said this week he will hold hearings in late summer and early fall to discuss the state's transportation infrastructure funding dilemma, with the goal of introducing reform legislation in 2016.

"These hearings are to discuss a comprehensive solution to fund the long-term needs of Tennessee's transportation system," Tracy said.

"I am looking forward to having this conversation with the governor, my colleagues and other Tennesseans who care about the future of our transportation infrastructure. And I am looking forward to working with the General Assembly next year to find a solution to our transportation funding problems."

Citing a recent list sent to members of the General Assembly from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Tracy referred to the more than $6 billion in backlogged road and bridge projects. State fuel fees were last raised in 1989.

The state has been pushing back projects in part because of uncertainty about the funding it receives from the federal government.

Tracy noted that, in the last 25 years, "our population has grown, traffic is up and we've seen the introduction of new technologies for vehicles that no longer need gas or diesel fuel."

"We are very near the tipping point where the cost is going to be too high and the backlog too great. If that happens, business and industry are going to choose some place other than Tennessee to bring new jobs. Existing businesses may begin to explore options for moving to another state," Tracy said.

Tracy referenced a report from the state comptroller's office that listed several options for bringing in more transportation funding.

These included:

*Increasing state user fees on diesel and gasoline

*Increasing and equalizing user fees on alternative fuels

*Indexing fuel user fees to inflation

*Vehicle registration renewal fee increases on cars and trucks

*Enacting a highway user fee for electric vehicles

*Creation of high-occupancy toll lanes

Tracy said all ideas need to be discussed and considered.

"It is my intention to spend a significant portion of my time while the General Assembly is out of session to gather solutions as to how we can solve this problem," he said.

Dates and venues for the hearings will be announced this summer once details are in place.

Tracy represents the 14th Senate District, including Marshall, Bedford, Lincoln, Moore and parts of Rutherford counties.