The search is on for road dollars in Tennessee

| Tuesday, October 17, 2006

With future state road funding shortfalls projected in the billions, Tennessee transportation officials are looking for alternate ways to pay for major construction and maintenance projects.

Officials at the Tennessee Department of Transportation are considering several options to pay for needed roadwork, including higher fuel taxes, toll roads, increased vehicle registration fees and bonds.

"Nothing is off the table," TDOT spokeswoman Julie Oaks told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Gov. Phil Bredesen said he wouldn't rule out increasing the fuel tax rate to get matching federal funds. The tax rate for diesel is 18.4 cents per gallon while the rate for gasoline is 21.4 cents.

"If the money is available from the federal government, it is very much worth our while to try and draw that money down," Bredesen told the Times Free Press. "We still have significant road infrastructure needs in our state."

According to the department's long-range transportation plan, Tennessee will face funding deficits as early as 2008. An accumulated shortfall of $2 billion is expected by 2015. By 2030, the funding gap is projected to reach $16 billion.

Experts say higher prices for oil, as well as steel, concrete and cement, are contributing to the struggle to pay for transportation projects.

Another factor in the state's fight to fund road and bridge work is the competition for labor and materials for construction projects around the nation, specifically in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. The building boom in China also is playing a part in higher costs.

States also are facing the uncertainty of federal funding.

Despite all the problems, Oaks said the state has not been forced to put off any projects.

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