Headquarters for TDOT stuck in slow lane

Headquarters for TDOT stuck in slow lane

September 15th, 2013 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Department of Transportation officials' plans for a $32 million regional headquarters in Chattanooga have taken an unexpected detour.

State Building Commission members voted last week to send the project, which would replace the 58-year-old Region II headquarters on Cromwell Road, to the panel's executive subcommittee amid questions over its proposed funding sources.

TDOT Commissioner John Schroer plans to foot $15.8 million of the cost using leftover funds or savings on already "closed" capital construction projects.

"These were dollars that were part of a construction project that had not been spent," Schroer explained to the panel. "We might have had stuff in for reserve or for extras that didn't happen."

The commissioner said his department is in the process of closing out some jobs that should have been closed out already. That makes money available, he said.

None of the money involves highway construction funds, which are in a separate pot, Schroer said.

But Building Commission members want more information. Secretary of State Tré Hargett said it's a "frustration" when an agency keeps appropriated but unused money instead of giving it back to state government.

"The real conundrum is you need an incentive to save," Hargett said, "but at the same time, [we] don't want to squirrel away money."

Schroer said his department's money, derived from fuel taxes, is specifically dedicated for transportation. Savings don't revert to the state's general fund.

Hargett agreed. But he still wants to look at the process of closing out projects and using funds elsewhere. He and other Building Commission members voted to ask the three-member executive committee for a review.

"I don't think it [the project] is in danger at all," Hargett said later. "I'm confident the Department of Transportation is going to get us that information, just where everybody can see it and the project move forward."

House Transportation Committee Chairman Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, said later he was "disappointed" by the delay.

"The facility they're in now is an old facility," Dean said. "They're doing a good job of making it work. But they certainly are in need of a new facility."

If Building Commission members have questions, Dean said, "I'm sure they need to get their questions answered and hopefully we'll get it funded."

Schroer said he doesn't see the commission's action as a setback.

"We'll go get them the information," he said. "They just wanted to know where the dollars were coming from and that's fine."

Schroer said the agency's three other regional headquarters already have new buildings. The Chattanooga headquarters is "functionally obsolete," he said.

The new building would be on state-owned land in the Enterprise South industrial park, home to Volkswagen's Chattanooga assembly plant.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.