DAYTON, Tenn. - A blue ribbon panel of Tennessee Department of Transportation officials and engineers made a stop here Monday to look at a new interchange and improvements to state Highway 30.
But TDOT Commissioner John Schroer cautioned that before any new projects are launched in Tennessee, Congress will soon have to come up with more money. The Volunteer State has a backlog of $8.5 billion of projects so transportation officials are now trying to weed out wants versus needs, and determine how to make needs more affordable.
The projects are reminders of the looming federal road funding drop off which currently has national players looking for answers, including Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who introduced a plan last week calling for a 12-cent increase in federal gas and diesel taxes.
Schroer shot straight with local officials Monday on the state of Tennessee road funding and the chances of this community seeing a $34 million widening and improvement project to SR-30, which connects Dayton to Pikeville in the west and Athens in the east.
"We can't do that anymore," said Schroer.
Instead, TDOT proposes keeping SR-30 two-lane, but doing some improvements to widen the road's shoulders and increase passing opportunities.
And the price tag for that work is around $17 million, which is roughly half of the original proposal. That gives the road a much better chance of getting TDOT improvements, said Schroer.
"You probably don't have much of a chance of getting that [$34-million four-lane]," he said. "But you probably have a decent chance of geting that [improved two-lane]. So which would you rather have?"
Paul Deggs, chief engineer at TDOT, estimated the cost of paving one mile of four-lane, asphalt road on a flat surface - with no bridge - to be upwards of $6 million. And the same road on mountainous terrain could cost up to $20 million.
He told local officials that an $18 million project "is a nice project today."
But Schroer said TDOT's federal funding will likely run out by the end of next month if a plan isn't agreed upon by Congress.
If that happens, he said the average citizen will not see much of a difference at first.
"The roads won't immediately fall apart," he said.
And all projects already under construction are safe, because their funding has already been allocated.
But the lack of new federal funding will lead to a freeze on all new local road projects in the state.
Schroer said it's a combination of things currently leading to the money crunch that the state and country are feeling, like greater fuel efficiency in new vehicles, risings costs of materials and construction and the lack of funding increases since the early '90s.
"Vehicle miles travelled have actually increased a little bit, but people are buying less gasoline," he said. "It's pretty difficult without any increase for inflation. We're dealing with 1993 income and 2014 expenses."
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6480.