Feb 2, 2023 - News

Tennessee's infrastructure needs keep growing

Illustration of Tennessee state surrounded by scaffolding.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios and Maura Losch/Axios

Tennessee's list of infrastructure projects needed to support transportation, education and public safety grew for the seventh consecutive year, according to a new report approved last week.

  • The price tag for all of the state’s needs has reached $62.9 billion, according to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.
  • That’s a more than $1 billion increase over last year’s total, which officials say is driven in part by inflation.

Why it matters: The report underscores the urgent need for better roads and bridges as the state’s population continues to soar.

  • Gov. Bill Lee has made infrastructure improvements a top legislative priority this year, with his administration looking for new ways to fund road projects.

Driving the news: Transportation needs, which sit at $34.7 billion in the latest report, are outpacing the available state funding.

  • Gas tax revenue, which is a major component of road project funding, is down. The tax is expected to generate about $939 million in revenue during the current fiscal year.
  • Lee and top lawmakers have suggested partnering with private companies to run express toll lanes as one possibility to defray road costs in urban areas.
  • They would give drivers the choice to bypass traffic by paying a fee to travel in a dedicated lane.

What we're watching: Lee is expected to unveil more details about his infrastructure plans next week during his State of the State address.

  • Lee's spokesperson tells Axios he will seek to "alleviate urban traffic congestion and more efficiently deliver infrastructure projects all across the state" without raising taxes.

Zoom out: Other major areas contributing to infrastructure needs include education at $14.8 billion, which includes new school buildings and renovations, and health, safety and welfare at $8.9 billion, most of which comes from wastewater projects.

  • More than two-thirds of projects in the report aren't funded, although projects typically get more funding as they move through early phases of development.

What she's saying: State Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) tells Axios she'd like to see the state — and city leaders in Nashville — take a forward-looking approach to transportation, rather than focusing on "road expansion."

  • Campbell, who sits on the TACIR and the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee, says she'd like to see more urgent work on passenger trains and light rail options.
  • "Just paving roads and fortifying bridges here and there is not going to get us where we need to go when we have such a burgeoning traffic issue, especially in Middle Tennessee."

"We have more money coming in from the federal government than we have in a long time,” Campbell says, referring to the federal infrastructure bill that passed in 2021.

  • "This is the time to make those big decisions that can actually pay off in the long term."

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