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Press Releases

TDOT Issues Aeronautics Grants to 3 Airports

 Press Release from Tennessee Department of Transportation; Jan. 11, 2012:

$209,500 Provides for Infrastructure and Other Improvements

NASHVILLE- The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) announced today that state aeronautics grants totaling $209,500 have been approved for 3 Tennessee airports.

Airports receiving grants include:

Elizabethton Municipal Airport
Gibson County Airport
Tri-Cities Regional Airport

For more details on each of these grants visit:
http://www.tdot.state.tn.us/news/2012/Aeronautics-Grant-Details1-11-12.pdf

The grants are made available through the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division.
The Division administers federal and state funding to assist in the location, design, construction and maintenance of Tennessee’s diverse public aviation system.

Except for routine expenditures, grant applications are reviewed by the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission (TAC), which is a five member board charged with policy planning and with regulating changes in the state Airport System Plan. The board carefully reviews all applications for grants to ensure that the proper state and local matching funds are in place and that the grants will be used for needed improvements.

The TDOT Aeronautics Division has the responsibility of inspecting and licensing the state’s 126 heliports and 75 public/general aviation airports. The Division also provides aircraft and related services for state government and staffing for the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission.

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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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Business and Economy Environment and Natural Resources Featured News Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Federal Cash Funding Sidewalks, Bike Trails

While the state is bracing itself for a possible downgrade in its bond rating, Gov. Bill Haslam is handing out jumbo checks to fund quarter-million-dollar courthouse sidewalks, $600,000 bike trails and other such “non-traditional transportation projects.”

“Programs like this will be a lot harder to come by in the future,” Haslam said after announcing a $69,700 walkway project in Spring Hill. “Already, the amount of money we have for enhancement grants are a lot less than it was five years ago.”

The governor has lately been swinging through West and Middle Tennessee to pose for photo ops with local elected leaders as he doles out roughly $12 million in “transportation enhancement grants.” Similar announcements are expected to continue through September, according to the state Department of Transportation.

One announced Wednesday included $279,000 for a sidewalk improvement project in Chester County. Another $360,000 will help the city of Bells begin revitalizing its downtown with new sidewalks, lightpoles and landscaping. And another $600,000 will go toward a three-and-a-half-mile hiking-biking trail from Cookeville to Algood.

Something just doesn’t feel right about that in the current economic climate, says Justin Owen, executive director of the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

“At a time when our state and nation face a fiscal crunch, it appears that spending on ‘aesthetic’ and ‘cultural’ aspects of transportation is code for wasteful spending on political pet projects. Now is not the time to be spending millions of taxpayer dollars on pretty flowers and fancy lights,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

In Washington, of course, a high-stakes political debate is raging over how much deeper into debt the United States government should plunge, and what projects, programs and entitlement benefits should be shut down or scaled back to try and get the country’s fiscal house in order.

Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, who helped Haslam hold up a gigantic check in Spring Hill for the walkway project, said he was torn.

“This will enhance the quality of life right now for $69,000 in Spring Hill, and I’m glad that they’re getting it. But in the future I think we’re going to have to re-prioritize the way we spend our money coming in from the federal government,” said Ketron, the GOP caucus chairman in the Senate.

The grants are funded entirely with federal dollars that have been flowing into the state since the transportation enhancement program’s inception in 1991. They can only be spent on “transportation enhancements” such as restoring historic facilities, bike and pedestrian trails, landscaping and other non-traditional projects, according to TDOT spokeswoman B.J. Doughty.

The state has cut more than $259 million in checks for 180 total projects since the project launched and the money is given to the state on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, said Doughty.

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Press Releases

Haslam Issues 3-Year Transportation Plan

State of Tennessee Press Release; April 28, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Transportation Commissioner John Schroer today released the three-year transportation program, which prioritizes a number of important improvements to Tennessee’s interstate system and continues funding for transit, rail, water and aviation programs. The three-year Multi-modal Work Program for 2011-2014 includes 182 transportation projects and programs, including 45 individual projects on interstates, 30 transit, water, rail & aviation initiatives, and 29 transportation programs serving Tennesseans across the state.

“A quality transportation system is vital to the continued growth of the state’s economy and increasing job opportunities for our residents,” said Governor Haslam. “The commissioner and I believe this three-year program balances the needs of communities across the state and makes solid investments in Tennessee’s infrastructure.”

The three-year multimodal program funds the widening of Interstate 65 north of downtown Nashville, and the completion of corridor improvements to State Route 66 in East Tennessee between I-40 and Sevierville. The program lists projects funded for various stages of development, including location and environmental studies, preliminary engineering, right-of-way acquisition, construction, and many operational components in the first year of the plan. It also proposes funding for a portion of the second and third year plans leaving flexibility for additional projects in those years.

“Taking a multi-modal approach to transportation planning allows TDOT to be responsive to the citizens of this state, tailoring projects to provide the greatest benefits in both our urban and rural areas,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “The department will address a number of needs through this three-year program, including congestion relief, improving access to communities, and the replacement or repair of dozens of aging bridges.”

Under the plan, TDOT will complete the final year of the Better Bridges Program, the construction of State Route 840 in Williamson County, a new interchange on U.S. 11E at U.S. 19 E in Sullivan County, U.S. 64 in southern west and middle Tennessee, and the widening of U.S. 27 (State Route 29) in Hamilton County.

The program includes dedicated funding for 29 transportation programs including Rockfall Mitigation, Spot Safety Improvement, Transportation Enhancements, and Safe Routes to School. It also provides approximately $45 million per year in funding for transit agencies, Metropolitan and Rural Planning Organizations, and private non-profit organizations in all 95 counties in Tennessee. TDOT will also administer funding for rehabilitation projects for shortline railways and bridges in several Tennessee counties and programs that provide for improvements at the state’s airports.

To view a complete list of projects and programs funded through the 2011-2014 three-year multimodal program visit http://www.tdot.state.tn.us/mediaroom/documents.htm. Video and audio clips with TDOT Commissioner Schroer regarding the three-year program are also available for download at http://www.youtube.com/user/TDOTnews and http://www.tn.gov/tdot/mediaroom/audio.htm. Project photos are available at http://www.flicker.com/photos/tndot/.

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Featured Liberty and Justice News NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Stoplight Camera Legislation a Go?

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy said he’s hopeful legislation will come out of the General Assembly this year that enacts uniform statewide regulatory standards governing the operation of traffic cameras by local law enforcement agencies.

The Shelbyville Republican told TNReport recently that after two years of start-and-stop discussions he believes there’s been enough on-the-record examination and deliberation of the issues involved to green-light legislative action this session.

Tracy indicated he opposes kicking the can down the road by sending the issue back into study-committee mode.

“It is a complicated issue, no question about that,” said Tracy. “But the more I got into it, the more I realized we do need to come up with a uniform policy.”

While Tracy said he does hear voices advocating that cameras be outlawed altogether, there’s enough support among local cops and officials that an outright statewide ban  — at least of the busy-intersection surveillance variety —  probably isn’t in the cards.

He added, though, that he perceives substantially more citizen anger and steadfast opposition directed specifically at speed-enforcement cameras.

Under legislation Tracy said he’d likely support, counties and cities could still ban red-light or speed cameras within their jurisdictions if pressured to do so by their constituents.

“I have met with communities across the board, and I want to make sure (camera-use) is about safety, and not about revenue enhancing,” said Tracy, who, along with House Transportation Committee Chairman Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, will play a key role in moderating traffic camera debates and molding whatever legislation might ultimately alight on Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.

Tracy said he’s open to supporting legislation that prohibits local jurisdictions from entering into agreements with camera vendors wherein the company is paid a per-ticket fee by the city or county.

“Even though they may not be doing it as an incentive to write more tickets, (in) the perception of the public it is,” said Tracy. “So if the community would pay a monthly fee to the vendor, instead of on a per-ticket basis, it takes that out of the question. Of course, some of the folks are not going to be happy with that.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety this week released a study (pdf) claiming that red-light cameras save lives.

According to an IIHS press release:

Red light cameras saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in 14 of the biggest US cities, a new analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows. Had cameras been operating during that period in all large cities, a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented.

…Looking at the 99 US cities with populations over 200,000, the researchers compared those with red light camera programs to those without. Because they wanted to see how the rate of fatal crashes changed after the introduction of cameras, they compared two periods, 2004-08 and 1992-96. Cities that had cameras during 1992-96 were excluded from the analysis, as were cities that had cameras for only part of the later study period.

An article critical of the study also appeared this week that suggested IIHS employed an “overly simplistic (research) method” and purposefully skewed the findings to support the political objectives of major automobile insurance firms that support the organization.

A recent review of traffic camera safety by The Economist showed inconclusive effectiveness.

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Business and Economy Education News Tax and Budget

Haslam Takes Up Task of Trimming Down Spending

Gov. Bill Haslam kicked off a four-day stretch of departmental hearings Monday as a warm-up to drafting his first state budget.

The new governor digested spending-plan projections from some heavy fiscal hitters right off the bat, including the Departments of Health, Education and Higher Education, which all had to present budget scenarios with reductions of 1 percent and 2 percent.

“We have 23 departments, if you add up all the requests, it will be a number obviously that we can’t fund,” Haslam said during a short break between hearings. “It’s their job to request that and to prioritize that … and then we have to wade through that at the end of the day.”

Haslam said he’s confident there’ll be fewer employees on the state payroll under his budget plan. But he said reductions need to be made “surgically” instead of by slashing staff with massive layoffs.

Haslam also heard from the Departments of Tourist Development and Financial Institutions Monday. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to hear from the Education Lottery Corporation and the Departments of Environment and Conservation, Transportation, Labor and Workforce Development, Corrections, Veterans Affairs, General Services, Commerce and Insurance, and Economic and Community Development. Hearings are expected to continue through Thursday morning.

Here are some highlights from Monday’s hearings:

Education

Education officials proposed an increase of $423 million in the state-funded portion of its budget, bringing the overall budget to $5.1 billion. Acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith said the increase includes pay rasies and increased state funding to schools mandated by inflation and the state’s school funding formula.

Haslam told reporters that he’s committed to fully funding schools as called for under the formula, known as the Basic Education Program.

“If you look at new dollars that are available in the state, at the end of the day, about half of them will be end up taken up in (Basic Education Program) formula and TennCare increases, just by formula, not by doing anything different,” he said.

Smith outlined about $3.5 million in possible cuts, which would eliminate positions and supply costs. The proposal would also reduce operating costs for the state’s schools for the blind and deaf, cut grants that support public television stations operated by schools and reduce other programs. Without additional funds, about $70 million in other programs and grants paid for with one-time money will be cut.

The total education budget is estimated to decrease this year by about $510 million because of a $1 billion reduction in federal funds.

Tourist Development

State tourism officials say they want to build two new “Welcome Centers,” even though all departments have been asked to propose reductions to their annual budget as one-time federal stimulus dollars run out this year. According to the department, the state currently operates 14 Welcome Centers across the state.

They described plans to build a center as part of a solar farm in Haywood County, and another visitor center along I-26 in Sullivan County.

Haslam questioned the expansion plans: “I’m just wondering why, in tight times, we’re adding them.”

The centers had “been on the books for 10 years,” and the planning and funding had been approved for several years as well, Department Commissioner Susan Whitaker said.

Health

Haslam opened his first budget hearing with Commissioner of Health Susan Cooper, who emphasized the department’s role in instilling good health into all environments and not specifically focused on individual clinical care. She addressed disease prevention and outbreak investigations, immunizations, licensing facilities and emergency preparedness.

The department employs roughly 3,000 people.

She noted that in 2005 the state ranked 48th in the nation in health status but is now 42nd, crediting decreased use of tobacco and returns on investment in community efforts to fight diabetes.

Haslam set the tone early that he would ask many questions along the way, frequently interjecting and asking if stimulus funds had been involved in expenditures.

Cooper noted that good health factors can be attractive to new businesses. She outlined a base budget of $539 million.

The department offered several potential budget reduction areas such as travel, cutting communications costs, abolishing a few positions and eliminating a hemophilia program, which she quickly added would require a change in statute.

Higher Education

Joe DiPietro, president of the University of Tennessee, and John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents made their first budget appearances since taking their new positions. The message they gave Haslam was that while there are great financial challenges facing the system, the state has high value in its higher education institutions.

Richard G. Rhoda, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission led off the presentation and underscored the financial crunch by telling Haslam that in the last 10 years enrollment at the state’s four-year schools has gone up 22 percent but that they have seen appropriations fall 33 percent. At the same time, tuition and fees have risen 74 percent.

Meanwhile, Rhoda said, enrollment at two-year schools is up 38 percent during that period while appropriations are down 26 percent. But in that time, tuition and fees for those schools have risen 126 percent.

Morgan said space constraints are a serious problem at many of the state’s technology centers. DiPietro said one issue facing UT is that some buildings are over 40 years old and in need of repairs. When Haslam asked the higher ed panel if they had any creative ideas to address the financial stress on the system, one possibility Morgan raised was to apply means-testing to the HOPE scholarships derived from the state’s lottery. Haslam said after the hearing he is not ready to take such a step.

Reid Akins and Mike Morrow contributed to this report.

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Press Releases

TDOT Running Low on Road Salt

State of Tennessee Press Release; Jan. 21, 2011:

Diminished salt supplies force shift in tactics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – An earlier, colder and snowier winter season has the Tennessee Department of Transportation implementing new strategies to conserve resources during snow and ice removal operations. Winter weather started affecting Tennessee roads in November of last year and TDOT’s arsenal of salt is being used at a faster rate than our supplier can replenish reserves.

“An active winter weather season has increased demand for salt and has slowed efforts to replenish stockpiles,” said TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges. “We are working closely with our salt supplier to fill orders as quickly as possible. In the meantime, it will take our maintenance forces longer to clear all routes of snow and ice as we try to conserve salt.”

TDOT will employ some of the other techniques available to clear roadways during weather events in the coming days and weeks. Crews will increase the use of salt brine and calcium chloride, both of which can successfully melt snow and ice from roads, and will help stretch existing salt supplies until new salt shipments arrive in early February. TDOT will also use its fleet of snow plows to remove any snow accumulation from interstates and state routes.

In early January, TDOT shifted salt from the western and middle parts of the state to East Tennessee, where supplies were depleted by several winter weather events. However, all four regions of the state are now experiencing lower levels of resources.

“Once salt reserves are restored, TDOT will resume typical snow and ice removal operations on all state routes,” TDOT Maintenance Division Director Greg Duncan said. “Until our salt supplies are replenished, we ask that motorists and residents use extreme caution as we face several more weeks of winter.”

For more information on travel conditions on interstates and state routes across Tennessee visit www.tn.gov/tdot/tdotsmartway or call 511 from any land line or cell phone. Travelers can also follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TN511 for statewide travel information. Motorists are reminded to use all motorist information tools responsibly. Drivers should refrain from texting, tweeting or using a mobile phone while operating a vehicle. TDOT advises drivers to “Know before you go!” by checking traffic conditions before leaving for their destination.

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NewsTracker

County Not Tracking Road Material Use: Audit

The Obion County Highway Department has not maintained a system to account for certain road materials, state auditors found, which puts the county at risk of losing supplies. This problem had been pointed out the year before, according to the audit by the comptroller’s office.

In the annual check of county finances, auditors also faulted both the highway and schools departments for having inaccurate ledger account balances that auditors had to correct.

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Press Releases

Music City Star Ridership Hits 1,060 Passenger Trips

Press Release from Regional Transportation Authority; Jan. 6, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Ridership on the Regional Transportation Authority’s (RTA) Music City Star hit a record 1,060 commuter passenger trips on Tuesday.

During the month of November, daily ridership on the train increased nearly 14 percent from 718 trips per day in 2009 to 816 passenger trips per day in 2010.

“With gas prices on the rise, more people are seeking other alternatives to driving their personal vehicles,” RTA Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Ballard said. “They are quickly realizing the many benefits that transit offers to them and the environment. We hope this ridership trend will continue for us in 2011.”

Over the last year, ridership on the regional train has steadily grown. During a six-month period from June through November 2010, ridership increased 8 percent over the same period a year ago.

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Press Releases

11 TN Airports Split $3.2 Million in Aeronautics Grants

State of Tennessee Press Release; Dec. 30, 2010:

NASHVILLE—Governor Phil Bredesen announced today that federal aeronautics grants totaling $3,202,614 have been approved for eleven Tennessee airports.

Airports receiving grants include (click on each link for details):

Cleveland Municipal Airport (.pdf)

Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport (.pdf)

Greeneville-Greene County Airport (.pdf)

Mark Anton Municipal Airport (.pdf)

McGhee-Tyson Airport (.pdf)

Millington Regional Jetport (.pdf)

Nashville International Airport (.pdf)

Savannah-Hardin County Airport (.pdf)

Sumner County Regional Airport (.pdf)

Tullahoma Regional Airport (.pdf)

Whitehurst Field (.pdf)

For more on each of these grants visit the TDOT newsroom or click on the links above.

The grants are made available through the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division.

“This division administers federal and state funding to assist in the location, design, construction and maintenance of Tennessee’s diverse public aviation system,” reported TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely. “We are pleased to continue to support Tennessee’s general aviation and commercial airports.”

Except for routine expenditures, grant applications are reviewed by the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission (TAC), which is a five member board charged with policy planning and with regulating changes in the state Airport System Plan. The board carefully reviews all applications for grants to ensure that the proper state and local matching funds are in place and that the grants will be used for needed improvements.

The TDOT Aeronautics Division has the responsibility of inspecting and licensing the state’s 126 heliports and 75 public/general aviation airports. The Division also provides aircraft and related services for state government and staffing for the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission.