Image Credit: tn.gov
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the state’s roadways are not prepared to withstand the use of the continually increasing population. As a part of the department’s proposal to solve this dilemma, they are currently considering a partnership with a private company to create toll roads across the state.
The University of Tennessee’s State Data Center estimates that population is projected to increase by about 1 million people over the next twenty years. TDOT says this means a 60% increase on average commute times and the possibility of an extra hour being added to travel time between cites.
Kevin Heaslip, UT director of the Transportation Center, says, “The roads are being stressed in ways that we haven’t seen before.”
TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley says Tennessee is “one of the few states that does not have any debt on our highway system.” While this is a positive, it also means that the state has not moved forward with a number of needed updates, leaving them with a current $26 billion backlog.
Tennessee lawmakers passed the Transportation Modernization Act in March, giving $3.3 billion to TDOT in an effort to help bring roadways up to speed.
One way that TDOT plans to work towards making those improvements includes a proposal to add choice lanes.
Heaslip says that choice lanes would be beneficial for drivers because it would allow them to get to their destination more quickly.
“You can choose to drive in these lanes, which are guaranteed by the state to be a certain higher speed limit, or they’re guaranteed not to be congested,” Heaslip said.
Federal laws will not allow those tolls to be added to existing lanes on the interstate, but they will allow those tolls to be added to new lanes that are added. With an extensive list of projects that have already been placed on the back burner, TDOT is looking for a private company to take on both construction and management of the new toll lanes.
Heaslip says this partnership would allow the state to invest the money that would go towards those lanes into other projects because the private company would handle the majority of the work.
Those costs, however, would reportedly be funneled back to the drivers who chose to use those lanes.
“The uses of those toll lanes end up paying for it because the companies wouldn’t have a reason to build the road if they didn’t have income coming in,” said Heaslip.
A final proposal is expected to go before the state legislature in December.