NASHVILLE, Tenn.- Leaders from the Tennessee Department of Transportation have been touring construction projects in Middle Tennessee this week and discussing how to pay for future road projects.
While Tennessee has had a great reputation for its superior highways and interstates, the commissioner of TDOT has called the way Tennessee pays for roads antiquated and out-of-date and wants to change it.
Road projects in the state of Tennessee are funded by the gasoline tax. And as people drive more fuel efficient vehicles, the revenue from that tax is expected to fall. Currently there has been nothing done to address the problem.
The state has $9.5 billion of projects under development, but only a fraction see the light of day.
"We'll spend about $900 million dollars this year, so about 10 percent of the projects we have is what we can build on an annual basis. And the only way to look at them is to try and prioritize them," said John Schroer, TDOT Commissioner.
Money is getting scarce. Schroer has $100 million dollars less to spend this year, and the gas tax fund used solely to build roads is declining. Because of hybrids and electric vehicles people are buying less gas, which is great for the environment, but not so good for a state trying to build roads with a gas tax.
Tennessee's gas tax is 21.4 cents a gallon. While some said the tax could be raised in the short term, Governor Bill Haslam has ruled that out.
Representative Phillip Johnson is chairman of the House Transportation Committee. He said the issue of how to pay for future road work has been talked about for years.
"You've got to have a political will in how you approach it and how you get it passed," said Phillip.
Officials have about having the gas tax rise and fall to go along with increases and decreases of the cost of living and price at the pump. On the national level there's been talk of a user fee based on the weight of your vehicle and how many miles you drive.
"We're going to have to start thinking outside the box, because we've got these really important road projects that we need to address" said Senator Jack Johnson ( R) Franklin.
Neither the idea of User fees and changing the gas tax has gained any traction at the state or national level. Governor Haslam said he was against toll roads when he was running for office, so that doesn't appear to be an option. However, the governor has called the way the state pays for road work the biggest threat to the state's infrastructure in the next ten years.