With the state struggling to pay for needed transportation work, the Tennessee Legislature approved a bill that would authorize tolling as a method to pay for new 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 two pilot toll projects: one bridge and one road. For the bridge project, officials are considering a six-mile stretch of road and bridge northeast of Nashville.
The Senate voted 20-10 to approve the bill and House lawmakers followed suit on a 72-21 vote. It now heads to Gov. Phil Bredesen’s desk where he is expected to sign it into law.
The bill – SB1152 – would allow tolls “as an additional and alternative method” to pay for highway work. It doesn’t specify toll roads or rates.
Any further toll projects would first have to face public hearings, environmental studies and legislative approval.
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. Others say Bredesen should first consider repaying about $280 million diverted from the state’s road fund during his first term to other programs.
Removed from the bill was a provision that would have allowed private groups to build and operate the toll routes. Another provision left off the bill would have allowed existing lanes to become toll lanes.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor