Toll talk rises in Tennessee

| 3/12/2007

With the state struggling to pay for needed transportation work, legislation in Tennessee would authorize tolling as a method to pay for road and bridge work in the state.

The proposed "Tennessee Tollway Act" would allow the state to issue bonds and incur debt to pay for toll projects. Private groups also would be allowed to build and operate the pay-to-play routes.

Sponsored by Rep. Phillip Pinion, D-Union City, the measure doesn't specify toll roads or rates. But it allows tolls "as an additional and alternative method" to pay for highway work.

Pinion told the Memphis Commercial Appeal the funding mechanism could be the best option to pay for vital projects such as an additional Mississippi River bridge at Memphis.

Supporters of the toll plan cite a projected 10 percent cut in federal funding in the coming year. Among the issues causing uncertainty about available dollars are soaring construction costs, including asphalt, and ongoing negotiations about federal funding for highway projects.

Opponents say toll roads would amount to an extra tax, when fuel and other taxes should cover road building.

Pinion's bill - HB1204 - and an identical Senate bill - SB1152 - are in committee.