The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
Transportation Commissioner Butch Eley is requesting that legislators consider allowing his department to do some research into the possibility of toll lanes in the state. This request comes as the funding needed to complete highway maintenance continues to exceed the amount of revenue the state has for those repairs.
At a Wednesday news conference, Eley said there were three options for generating the necessary funds without incurring additional debt or having to raise fuel taxes. Those options included the implementation of cost savings in the department’s construction process, raising fees for electric vehicles, or looking into toll lanes.
“All we’re doing here is asking for the ability to look at this as an option,” Eley stated. “Right now, we can’t do what other states around the country are doing as it relates to public-private partnerships.”
Toll roads have become a common way for states across the nation to generate revenue while also alleviating high traffic congestion. Those are most often found around larger cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
The proposed toll lanes would be considered “choice” lanes, meaning drivers would choose to pay a toll to be able to get around slower drivers.
Governor Bill Lee, who was not in attendance for Wednesday’s press conference, has stated that improving the infrastructure of the state was one his most pressing concerns for his second term.
Eley has served as one of the governor’s top advisers throughout the first term. He holds the title of deputy governor and just recently moved to lead TDOT after heading up the Department of Finance and Administration.
In 2017, state lawmakers approved a 26-cent per gallon tax on gasoline and a 27-cent per gallon tax on diesel fuel in an effort to help fund highway repairs. This was the first increase in fuel tax since 1989. Approximately $500 million is earned per year, but sources do not expect that to increase because more people are switching to electric and other more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Research conducted by TDOT and the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations shows an estimated cost of between $26 billion and $35 billion to meet road repair needs for the next 15-20 years.
“It doesn’t take long to realize we have a little bit of a math problem,” Eley said.
The governor has stated that he does not want to raise the fuel tax or put the state further into debt.
Lawmakers cannot borrow money for road repairs because Tennessee is one of six states that uses a pay-as-go model.
The governor has also made it clear that he does not want to look into long distance toll roads that extend from one large city to another.
“The governor does not believe that toll roads from point A to point B where the entire roadway is tolled is a good solution,” Eley said.
The state has released a new website called Build With Us that details their proposed solutions to the road maintenance funding problem.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com