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Transforming transportation: TDOT's proposal for 'choice lanes,' $3 billion in road improvements

Choice Lanes
Posted at 5:20 PM, Feb 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-08 19:42:14-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley has done the math. It would take $26 billion to fix all of Tennessee's congestion issues on interstates. But he says it's $26 billion we don't have. So, he's steering the state in a different direction.

"This is totally a choice," said Eley.

He wants to build Choice Lanes. It's a system Florida and Texas already use, where a private company builds lanes drivers can pay to use to get around all the traffic.

"These are additional lanes. All of the current lanes — regular lanes — are going to continue to exist so that people can be able to ride those and make a choice," said Eley.

The state gets a cut of those proceeds, which could help fund other road projects. But to do so, the state needs permission from lawmakers.

"Allow us to do the authority to do these public-private partnerships," he said.

If it's granted, TDOT would come back with specifics next year, and construction would be even further down the road. But that's not the only way the Governor wants to invest in improving roads.

"We’re proposing an additional $3 billion to build roads in all three Grand Divisions," said Gov. Bill Lee during the 2023 State of the State.

It was a big announcement, but lawmakers are already curious how that money will be spent.

"I would really like to drill down into that $3 billion and know exactly what projects are going to be included — quite possibly what’s not included," said Sen. Bill Powers, a Republican from Clarksville, during Wednesday's Senate Transportation Committee meeting.

"The reason we need more study is to determine, really, the prioritization of how we move forward in this," said Eley, during the committee meeting.

A spokesperson for TDOT said they know they'll divide that $3 billion among the four regions of TDOT in Tennessee. As for what they'll specifically spend it on, they said they'll spend the rest of the year determining which specific projects they want to fund.

The Governor specifically mentioned widening interstates in rural areas, meaning communities like Clarksville could finally get more than just two lanes on I-24. Whatever TDOT decides, the math is pretty clear it will be years before you notice any improvement on the road.

"It would take a few years to get this underway, but we want to start seeing this work done as soon as possible," said Eley.

TDOT also wants to raise annual registration fees on electric vehicles so that transportation funds remain sufficient as more drivers transition from gas to electric cars.

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