Highway users will pay for multimodal projects in Tennessee

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 10/28/2013

Highway users including truckers will help pay for walking trails, bike lanes and transit projects in Tennessee whenever they buy fuel.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has created a new $30 million Multimodal Access Fund because of what officials say is a lack of federal funding available for certain projects. The fund will get its money from state fuel tax revenues, which may have highway users taking issue.

TDOT Director of Community Relations BJ Doughty provided some more information about the program via an email Q&A with Land Line:

Q: Is the Multimodal Access Fund a product of recent legislation, or has this come about some other way?
A: This fund was created by TDOT and is not part of any legislation. The department made the decision based on needs that exist in communities and a lack of available federal funding for such projects.

Q: Can the money be used to fix roads and bridges, or is it only focused on improving walking, biking or transit links?
A: The funds – as stated in the press release – are only for walking, biking, or transit links, not for roads or bridges. There may be few instances where projects might include roadway modifications or a pedestrian bridge for example.

Q: What is the total dollar amount involved with this particular fund?
A: TDOT set aside $30 million for a three-year period. We have not divided the funds beyond that because we will have to see how many applications we get, eligible projects, etc. especially the first year.

Q: What happens to any funds that might not be spent from the $30m fund? Does that money go back to the road and bridge fund?
A: I don’t think we’ve determined that yet. With this being a new program, we’ll have to see how it goes. But yes, theoretically any unspent funds would simply funnel to another area.

TDOT is accepting funding requests for projects through Dec. 20. The DOT says it can provide up to $1 million for an individual project that requires a 5 percent local match.

Truckers do not see eye-to-eye with their fuel tax money paying for projects that are not related to improving highway and bridge infrastructure.

“While projects like these certainly can have their merits to their users, OOIDA has consistently argued that funds paid by highway users are the wrong place to pay for transit, bike, and pedestrian projects,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley. “These projects should be funded out of the state’s general tax revenues, or the state should develop a stand-alone fund for them, paid by a dedicated user fee that does not apply to highway users.”

To Tennessee’s credit, the state has one of the lowest numbers of deficient bridges, and that number continues to decline. Even so, 15 percent of Tennessee’s bridges are considered functionally obsolete, meaning they lack capacity for the current traffic load.

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