THE WISH LIST
Tennessee infrastructure needs, July 2015-June 2020
Transportation and utilities: $24.8 billion
Education: $9.6 billion
Health and social welfare: $6.2 billion
Recreation and culture: $1.8 billion
General government: $722 million
Economic devopment: $417 million
Total: $43.4 billion
It's the mother of all wish lists — the schools, roads, fire halls and parks local and state officials across Tennessee would build if they just had the money.
The annual infrastructure survey released last week by a state policy think tank, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), comes to $43 billion. The list includes more than $2 billion in Hamilton County needs for schools, roads, safety and recreation projects and sewer lines, the bones upon which homes, businesses and communities are built.
"Wish" is the operative word. Projects local school districts, governments and others put on the rolling, five-year list — this edition covers 2015-2020 — can bounce around for years, move ahead or back or drop off altogether. But as a way for communities to decide what they need to prosper and grow, and in what order, it's a helpful tool, local leaders say.
"You get the whole huge ball of wax in one report," said Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis. "It does give you something to refer back to when you have something to do and you know what the next biggest need is."
Having a project on the TACIR list adds credibility when it's time to look for funding, too.
"It never hurts to have a lot of eyes looking and a lot of ears listening about what may be valuable access to grants or funding mechanisms," said Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger. "We have our own grant-writing department, but TACIR is a good resource to tap into as we're looking for funds for major projects."
Local taxpayers would pay the tab for six new or expanded schools and 68 school renovation projects on Hamilton County's list. But appropriations, grants or loans from state or federal sources could help in other areas. The county list includes four fire protection projects — including new fire halls in East Lake and Hixson that opened in 2014 and in February, respectively, and a planned fire hall in south Soddy-Daisy — 12 recreation projects and $18 million in water and wastewater needs.
Some other items on the local list are really state projects, such as a new, $5.6 million headquarters building for the Tennessee Highway Patrol District 2 headquarters on Cummings Highway, or a large part of the $1.8 billion in transportation projects.
Think of the TACIR survey as the mouth of a funnel. Each year surveys go out to municipal, county and state governments, school and utility districts and the state Department of Transportation. The returns are coordinated by the one of the nine state development districts that act as planning coordinators in multicounty regions. Those district officials work with local leaders to set priorities and look for funding opportunities through planning to design and construction of individual projects.
That's especially important for small, rural counties that don't have the planning resources of a metro area.
"They do the work we would have to hire 10 people or so [to do] here in the county, and we would have to pay them salaries to do that work," Bledsoe County Mayor Gregg Ridley said of the Southeast Tennessee Development District, which takes in Hamilton and nine surrounding counties.
He ticked off some of the big projects in Bledsoe in the last few years: $1.6 million for a new health department building; $500,000 to rehab low-income seniors' housing and $300,000 to renovate the nursing home, and much more. On the new list are five schools and some county road projects, along with a state ask for $5.1 million to convert to geothermal climate control at the Southeastern Tennessee State Regional Correctional Facility in the county.
"We could not function as a local government without our development district," Ridley said. "This is my almost 20th year as county mayor and the development district has been instrumental in all of our grants. Over the years, I would guess $6-$10 million, just for Bledsoe, and not counting economic development."
Jennifer Williams is the Southeast Tennessee Development District's coordinator for the infrastructure survey. She believes the process has value for centralizing data and as a planning tool.
"If you're not trying to ascertain what your needs are and plan for the future, you're probably not going to be as impactful in the future," Williams said.
The project list is a big help to the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, executive director Mark Harrison said.
He gave a nod to the assessment and rehabilitation work at exit 1 in East Ridge associated with the Bass Pro Shops that began under his predecessor, the late Cleveland Grimes.
"The idea that we have an organization that will perhaps build some improvement in communication with other agencies I work with helps me communicate better," Harrison said. "When TDOT does a road widening project it's good for me to see it ahead of time — I might be able to coordinate my planning with TDOT or the county's road department."
The WWTA serves seven cities and the unincorporated area of the county with 493 miles of main line and 400 miles of private lateral lines, he said. WWTA now is overseeing a sewer project to serve the third section of Hamilton on Hunter, a huge residential development on Hunter Road.
Developer Jay Bell said the line will cost more than $1 million and will serve "everybody in the valley" for the next 10 to 15 years, including the Church of the Highlands at the Camp Joy site on Highway 153 at Hunter Road.
"It's going to mean a lot of good quality growth for the county," Bell said.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.
Hamilton County 2015-2020 wish list
Community development: 6 projects, $20 million
Fire protection: 4 projects, $4 million
Law enforcement: 4 projects, $9 million
Libraries, museums, historic sites: 2 projects, $3 million
New schools and additions: 6 projects, $144 million
Post-secondary education: 45 projects, $437 million
Public buildings: 1 project, $1 million
Public health facilities: 1 project, $2 million
Recreation: 12 projects, $10 million
School renovations: 68 projects, $26 million
Storm water: 4 projects, $6 million
Transportation: 248 projects, $1.8 billion
Water and wastewater: 14 projects, $18 million