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Press Releases

Tennessee Roads, Bridges Ranked High in National Study

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Transportation; February 27, 2013:

Reason Foundation Finds Improvement Across the Board in Tennessee

NASHVILLE – A new study by the Reason Foundation examining 20 years of highway data finds Tennessee has improved in all seven key areas studied, one of only 11 states to do so. The report, “Are Highways Crumbling? State Performance Summaries”, looked at state highway data from 1989 through 2008.The report measures road performance in several categories: Miles of urban interstate highways in poor condition, miles of rural interstates in poor condition, congestion on urban interstates, deficient bridges, highway fatalities, rural primary roads in poor conditions, and the number of narrow rural primary roads.

“This report is a testament to the focus TDOT has placed on maintaining our infrastructure, aggressively repairing and replacing aging bridges, increasing safety, and managing congestion” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “This is truly exceptional when you consider we are one of only five DOT’s in the nation with no transportation debt.”

The report found urban congestion and the proportion of deficient bridges in Tennessee were significantly improved. The study also cites Tennessee as being particularly successful in taking care of its roads, improving road conditions on rural and urban interstates. In fact, the proportion of urban interstates in poor condition fell by 16 percentage points, the fifth biggest improvement in the nation.

In addition to improving in all seven categories, Tennessee eclipsed the national average improvements in many cases, making it one of the most successful states in the U.S. in terms of highway infrastructure.

To view the entire report, please visit:

http://reason.org/files/us_highway_performance_20_year_trends_full_study.pdf

To view state by state summaries, please visit:

http://reason.org/fil/us_highway_performance_20_year_trends_state_by_state_results.pdf

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Press Releases

TDOT Suspending Highway Construction for Memorial Day Weekend

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Transportation; May 23, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Road construction won’t slow motorists down as they travel Tennessee’s highways this Memorial Day weekend. The Tennessee Department of Transportation will suspend all construction-related lane closures on interstates and state routes beginning at 12:00 noon on Friday, May 25 through 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 29. This will provide maximum roadway capacity for motorists expected to travel in the state this Memorial Day weekend.

“Halting road construction during this busy holiday weekend will minimize congestion and delays on Tennessee’s interstates, said Commissioner John Schroer. “We want to keep traffic flowing so everyone can have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend.”

Motorists will still encounter some lane closures on long term construction projects. Drivers should be aware that reduced speed limits will be in effect in work zones. Slower speeds are necessary in work zones due to the temporary layout of the roadway. Drivers convicted of speeding through work zones where workers are present face a fine of up to $500, plus court fees and possible increased insurance premiums.

“Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff to summer and we want everyone to arrive at their destination safely,” said Governor’s Highway Safety Office Director Kendell Poole. “If you’re traveling this Memorial Day weekend, be sure to buckle up and avoid distractions inside your vehicle.”

AAA estimates 34.8 million people will travel more than 50 miles this Memorial Day holiday, reflecting a slight nationwide increase of 1.2% from 2011. Of this number, AAA predicts nine out of ten travelers will travel by car. In Tennessee, AAA projects 613,327 will travel by automobile and 58,168 by air, which is a 1.5% increase over Tennessee’s 2011 travel numbers.

Updated travel and construction information can be found on the TDOT SmartWay website at www.tn.gov/tdot/tdotsmartway or you may call 5?1?1. You can also receive traffic alerts via TDOT’s multiple Twitter feeds, including statewide traffic tweets @TN511 or any of TDOT’s other Twitter pages. Smartphone users can use the TDOT SmartWay Mobile website at http://m.tdot.tn.gov/SmartWay/ to access TDOT’s SmartWay cameras, messages displayed on overhead Dynamic Message Signs, and information on construction related lane closures and incidents on interstates and state routes.

As always, drivers are reminded to use all motorist information tools wisely and Know Before You Go! by checking travel conditions before leaving for their destination. Drivers should never tweet, text or talk on a cell phone while behind the wheel.

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Business and Economy Featured News

Lawmakers, Haslam Sideline Talk of Gas Tax Increase

Lawmakers have mulled for years whether to restructure gasoline taxes to make up for consumer shifts to fuel-efficient vehicles, but the House Transportation Committee chairman says there’s little desire to tackle that right now.

“There’s no political will for a gas tax increase when you’re dealing with gas over $3 a gallon,” said Chairman Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, adding options could include charging drivers a tax based on their mileage.

“It’s just a matter of coming out with something that will have enough votes to pass. There just really hasn’t been any particular solution or idea we’ve come to agreement on,” he said.

Gas collections that fund state transportation will eventually stall out, Tennessee Department of Transportation officials warned earlier this month, although Gov. Bill Haslam has ruled out reconfiguring the gas tax for at least two years.

“We’re not close to proposing a change on that, but I think all of us can look and say logically there’s no way 10 years from now we’re doing it the same way we are now,” Haslam said last week.

“It will not be something we propose doing this year and probably not next,” he said.

At a budget hearing this month, TDOT officials said that the state will need to figure out how else to fund the department amid rising costs to fix roads as gas tax collections continue to stagnate as they did this past year.

Tennessee taxes gasoline at 21.4 cents a gallon, which ranks among some of the lowest rates in the nation. The feds tax gas at 18.4 cents per gallon, for a total rate in Tennessee of 39.8 cents.

Last year the state collected $606 million in gasoline taxes, slightly up from $601 million the year before. Back in 2008, just before the recession settled in, the state collected $622 million in gasoline taxes.

About 40 percent of those dollars are siphoned off for cities and counties or deposited into the state’s general fund. The remaining $255 million last year stayed with TDOT, although state officials said they didn’t know exactly how much is directed to road projects versus non-road or administrative costs, saying the dollars are used throughout the department.

TDOT officials are proposing an $800 million state budget for next year, an 8 percent decrease from last year.

Tennessee roads are consistently rated by truckers and industry experts as among the best in the nation, according to Overdrive Magazine and the Asphalt Pavement Alliance.

Although the governor says he’s not focused on addressing the gas tax now, any conversation down the road should include ensuring the user tax on gas is spent on roads instead of giving it away to non-road projects, according to one key interest group.

“The state fuel tax is a user fee. Meanwhile, we’re seeing the growth in that slow down. It’s the only mechanism we have,” said Kent Starwalt, executive vice president of the Tennessee Road Builders Association.

The association has supported efforts in the General Assembly to find a dedicated funding source for mass transit like light rail. But until that happens, the gas tax “is the only mechanism we have,” Starwalt said.

The declining use of gasoline is a “big, big issue” in Tennessee and the country, Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said during his department’s budget hearing.

Gas tax collections have been flat if not down slightly, said Schroer. Some of that is due to the recession, but it’s also indicative of drivers shifting to more fuel-efficient vehicles, he said.

“The trend for us is going the wrong direction as far as the amount of money we will see. We will, I think, in my opinion, continue to see less and less as we go along,” said Schroer, who said his office has spoken to legislative leaders on both the House and Senate transportation committees.

“The issue is it costs more and more to do what we’re doing, and we have more capacity, and we have an older, deteriorating infrastructure that gets more expensive to fix every single year,” he said. “It is an issue that not only we as a state are going to have to address but nationally we have to address it as well.”

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Press Releases

Weaver Pushes Dems Back For Criticizing TDOT Bill

Press Release from Rep. Terry Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster; April 1, 2010:

Rebukes TNDP For Lies

(April 1, 2010, NASHVILLE) – Representative Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) struck back at the Tennessee Democratic Party today after they made false allegations about a bill she is currently sponsoring in the Tennessee General Assembly. House Bill 3627 would encourage the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to take into account quality of life and economic impact when prioritizing road projects. The TNDP falsely accused Weaver of jeopardizing federal funding by requiring the General Assembly to approve road projects.

“It is clear to me that the Tennessee Democratic Party has no interest in the truth,” said Representative Weaver. “This legislation would simply encourage TDOT to consider certain important factors when prioritizing road projects. There is no price tag on the bill, and the Tennessee Democratic Party would have realized this if they had actually read it,” she continued.

Representative Weaver’s bill specifically encourages TDOT to prioritize projects with the following objectives in mind:

* Ensuring the continued viability of and improving the quality of life in rural communities affected by any projects;

* Promoting economic development and tourism in affected communities;

* Improving public safety;

* Improving the efficiency of transportation routes and

* Coordinating the traffic flow between local communities to maximize opportunities for all of the state.

“While the Tennessee Democratic Party plays deceitful politics, I have been working tirelessly with TDOT and the constituents in my community to make District 40 an even better place to live, work and raise a family,” said Representative Weaver. “It is disappointing that they are taking cheap political shots, but it will not deter my work for the people of Macon, Smith, and DeKalb Counties,” she concluded.

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Liberty and Justice News

Traffic Camera Legislation Promised, But Not Before April

The House sponsor of a proposal to regulate red-light traffic cameras made assurances this week that he’ll try to pass some form of the bill this year.

However, nobody should expect any legislative action for another six weeks, said Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap.

He made the announcement Tuesday as he asked the Public Safety Subcommittee to forward the current version of the bill to the full House Transportation Committee.

Harmon said he wants to sit on the bill until April 1 so that agencies and groups like the Department of Safety, Department of Transportation, the Municipal League, sheriff and police chief associations and traffic engineers can attempt reaching an agreement on a final version.

Whatever they come up with will be made available well enough in advance so lawmakers can study it before having to vote on the bill, said Harmon.

Harmon said if the group does not finalize recommendations by April 1, he’ll push all bills related to traffic cameras.

“If that’s not putting the pressure on, I don’t know what,” he continued. “I’m disappointed we can’t move this bill as-is, to be honest with you.”

Rep. Chad Faulkner, R-Luttrell, asked Harmon if he’s fully committed “to do something after April 1.”

“If I do not have something brought to this committee by April 1, I’ll be asking you pass the bill I had originally without their recommendations,” Harmon responded.

Under Harmon’s current proposal, no government would be allowed to enter into, or renew, a contract with a private red-light camera vendor for two years, except for the traffic camera on Hixson Pike in Chattanooga. In addition, fines for first time violators would be reduced from $50 to $10.

In the end, the legislation could hinge on a state attorney general’s opinion Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport has requested.

Among Shipley’s questions for the Tennessee Department of Justice:

  • Do alleged red-light violators have a right to confront their accusers, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
  • Do the camera systems replace the presumption of innocence with the presumption of guilt?
  • Do the systems create a lack of uniformity in traffic laws throughout the state, which could potentially create a lack of equal protection?

Shipley, who submitted the requested opinion on January 9, said he’s received no word as to when the opinion will be delivered.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General Robert Cooper declined questions, saying all requested opinions are “confidential” until they are released on their web site.

Shipley, who said red-light camera systems are operating in his Kingsport-area district, indicated he’s neutral on whether or not they ought to be banned in Tennessee.

“I’m against them if they are unconstitutional,” he said. “Anecdotally, they have saved lives.”

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Business and Economy

State Eager for More Federal Transportation Funds

Tennessee transportation officials told lawmakers this week they’re hoping the Volunteer State will get another round of federal stimulus-type money for road and highway construction projects.

“There is talk of a second, what they call a Jobs Bill,” Commissioner Gerald Nicely told a state House committee Tuesday in Nashville. “It passed the (U.S.) House in December and would be about the same size as the stimulus that passed in February of 2009.”

Tennessee’s chunk could be about $27 million for roadway projects and another $9 million for public transit initiatives and efforts, he said.

“I think we’re going to know something in the next three or four weeks whether or not it’s going to fly because the whole idea is to get jobs created just as quickly as possible,” Nicely said.

The state’s unemployment rate, which had seen declines every month from a peak of 10.8 percent in June, jumped back up to 10.9 percent in December, an increase of 0.7 percent from November.

Nicely claimed that the work-making effects of new stimulus funding would be seen almost immediately. Under the draft language of the bill, Nicely said, states would have to obligate the money to construction contracts within 90 days. Governments were given 120 days to obligate the funding after receiving last year’s stimulus money.

“That would be a challenge, but we’re prepared to do it,” Nicely added. “We’re already looking at projects.”

He said 315 projects across the state were paid from the last round of stimulus money.

Nicely added that not all of the money the state received in 2009 has been assigned to projects yet, but assured the House Transportation Committee that plans are in place to spend the remaining funds by the federal government’s March 2 deadline.

A portion of the money went to the 11 Tennessee Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the state, which handle local and regional projects in urban areas of 50,000 or more. The MPO’s have yet to obligate a little over $800,000 in stimulus funds.

If the MPO’s fail to finalize their spending priorities by the federal deadline, TDOT’s state projects will take their place to prevent the state from losing stimulus funds, said Nicely.

The areas in which the stimulus funds were spent were guided by the language in the federal bill, TDOT spokeswoman Julie Oaks said in an email.

“The Recovery Act bill encouraged the use of funds in Economically Distressed areas,” she wrote. “TDOT developed a selection criteria for projects and did look at those in ED areas, however the biggest requirement was that a project be ready to go to contract. We also worked to balance the funds across the state in every way (north/south; east/middle/west; urban/rural).”

Nicely told the committee that 72 percent of funds are going to “economically distressed” areas throughout the state where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average, or average incomes are no more than 80 percent of the national average.

“A lot of states used a great deal of this money for just basic maintenance stuff like paving,” he said. “We had a good variety…road projects, bridge projects, and we distributed it across the state.”

Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Communications Director Jeff Hentschel said it is impossible to tell exactly how many construction jobs were directly created by the stimulus funding due to the way statistics are gathered by the department.

If Congress passes the latest jobs bill, the spending of the latest round of funding would again be guided by the language in the federal bill, Oaks said.

U.S. Senate leadership announced Thursday that they think they’re close to an agreement on the bill and expect to bring the legislation to the floor next week.

Categories
News Tax and Budget

House Lawmakers to Discuss Transportation Funding

Tennessee Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely is scheduled to talk agency budget issues with a legislative committee study group this afternoon.

About $899 million of the roughly 1.8 billion proposed transportation department budget derives from state funds, $844 million from the federal government, and $37.8 million comes from other sources, Nicely said during Gov. Phil Bredesen’s budget hearings last month.

Tennessee state transportation funding is gleaned primarily from motor vehicle registration fees, the 21.4 cent gas-tax and the 18.4 cent tax on diesel.

“Our overall budget is showing a decrease of just over $7 million from the 09-10 budget,” Nicely said.

Nicely said the department is planning to reduce administrative costs by eliminating 200 vacant positions. He said 80 other positions were eliminated through employee buyouts.