Governor Lee's Administration Announces Infrastructure Funding Plan, Requests Further Traffic Studies from General Assembly
By: Brett Howell, TCHOA Executive Director
December 2, 2022
This week was the formal rollout of the Lee Administration's infrastructure plan, which is being pitched to the General Assembly ahead of its convening January 10, 2023. TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley, who also serves as Deputy Governor, held a media briefing Wednesday to discuss details of the plan and answer questions. He and Governor Lee unveiled the initiative earlier in the week to attendees of the governor's Rural Development Conference. There is a great deal of talk about state projects to address congestion issues, both immediate and into the future.
Much of the talk centered on the ability of TDOT to study the use of "choice" lanes, where a driver could pay a special fee to use a through-lane on an interstate, for instance. Public-private partnerships play a key role in what is being proposed so far. The focus is on additional capacity, as Eley described, rather than repurposing or disrupting existing travel lanes. The major question is how to fund these improvements and what, if anything, might be planned for county roads and bridges. At this point, TCHOA is not seeing an immediate direct impact for counties, one way or another.
The use of alternative construction methods to streamline construction projects would yield the most cost savings, according to Commissioner Eley. Simply, the quicker a project can go from start to finish, the better. Cutting a 15-year project to just 7-8 years would save the state a great deal of money. Do this enough times and the savings add up and create a pot that I was told might help counties and our local projects. So, this is the best chance for counties to benefit directly from this proposal, from the information available so far.
Discussions about the state-focused infrastructure plan are in the early stages. TCHOA will continue talking with the Administration and state legislators about the financial situation at the county highway department level and the growing needs we have there.
The same economic predicament TDOT is currently facing is the same for counties, where the tremendous impact felt by the IMPROVE Act beginning in 2017 is already beginning to wane because of rising costs, the coming increase in electric vehicles and fuel efficiencies that are cutting into the primary source of revenue for both the county highway department and TDOT.