I-75/I-24 split may never be fixed if road funding doesn't rise, Haslam administration says

I-75/I-24 split may never be fixed if road funding doesn't rise, Haslam administration says

Governor in Chattanooga today to discuss local needs

November 9th, 2015 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Traffic builds up on Interstate 24 near the I-75 split Sunday afternoon. The Sunday following the Thanksgiving holiday typically causes a traffic jam at the split, leaving cars at a standstill.

Photo by Allison Love /Times Free Press.

Gov. Bill Haslam says three major road projects in Hamilton and Bradley counties totaling $358.23 million can't even begin trying to jump off the drawing board for another seven years absent new sources of of state transportation funding.

The Republican, who is in Chattanooga today, is holding a news conference today near one of the sites -- a proposed $65 million major overhaul of the I-75 and I-24 interchange in East Ridge and Brainerd.

Absent additional funding, according to administration officials, two other local projects also can't begin to move forward until at least 2022, if ever, with funding at current levels. One is an estimated $121.68 million widening of I-75 in Hamilton into Bradley counties. 

Gov. Bill Haslam

Gov. Bill Haslam

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

The other is a $171.55 million widening of I-25 from two to three lanes as it re-enters Tennessee from Georgia and proceeds east into Chattanooga. 

And that's not counting a list of 181 backlogged projects statewide -- seven in Hamilton County -- that can't be completed or at least put under contract until 2034 at the earliest, the administration says. 

The governor's hitting Chattanooga, Alcoa, Kingsport, Memphis and Lebanon today seeking to illustrate challenges facing Tennessee's infrastructure system. Joining him is Transportation Commissioner John Schroer. 

As he meets resistance from a number of fellow Republicans in the Legislature, Haslam today is seeking to amplify the case he's been making since this summer: Tennessee needs new revenue. He's not been specific about where to get it, but recently acknowledged an increase in the state's 21.4 cent per gallon gas tax is the likely sources.

The administration says the three Chattanooga-area projects that may not get built without new dollars are among 765 identified across all 95 counties stalled for lack of funding. 

Collectively, it would cost cost $5.3 billion to improve 162 state highway bridges in 59 counties, 496 local bridges in 80 counties and 159 new projects in 58 counties. 

New funds would lessen congestion, save fuel, cut travel times, improve rural communities access, address safety issues and boost economic development, the administration says.

The list of backlogged projects include seven in Hamilton County. These projects have been approved by state lawmakers but there are no current funds to proceed further. 

Among them is $37 million in modifications for the I-24 interchange at Broad Street in downtown Chattanooga. 

"Today is about starting a thoughtful discussion on what Tennesseans want from their transportation system today and for their children and grandchildren," Haslam said in a news release. "Transportation affects every Tennessean. From the business moving product to the parents trying to make it home before their kids go to bed, everyone has a stake in this discussion."

He said "the last time Tennessee passed a roads plan was 1986, so if history is any indication, it could be another 30 years before the state has another plan."

The state, which pays for roads as it goes and issues no bonds, has a "debt-free system that is the third highest ranked in the country and spends the third least per capita," Haslam said. "But looking ahead five years, there are very real challenges that will affect the conditions of our roads and bridges, our ability to recruit the jobs we want in Tennessee, and our quality of life."


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