Tennessee needs $62.9 billion for infrastructure projects, report finds

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios and Maura Losch/Axios

Tennessee’s list of infrastructure projects needed to support transportation, education and public safety has grown for the seventh year in a row, according to a new report approved last week.

  • According to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Interstate Relations, the price of the state’s entire needs has reached $62.9 billion.
  • That’s an increase of more than $1 billion from last year’s total, which officials say is partly due to inflation.

Why it matters: The report underscores the urgent need for better roads and bridges as the state’s population continues to soar.

  • Gov. Bill Lee has made infrastructure improvements a top legislative priority this year as his administration looks for new ways to fund road projects.

Driving the news: Transportation needs, estimated at $34.7 billion in the latest report, exceed available government funds.

  • Gas tax revenues, which are an important part of financing road projects, are declining. The tax is expected to generate approximately $939 million in revenue in the current fiscal year.
  • Lee and senior lawmakers have proposed working with private companies to operate express toll lanes as a way to cover road costs in urban areas.
  • They would give drivers the option to avoid traffic by paying a fee to drive in a dedicated lane.

What we observe: Lee is expected to reveal more details about his infrastructure plans during his state of the state address next week.

  • Lee’s spokesman told Axios that he would try to “alleviate urban congestion and implement infrastructure projects across the state more efficiently” without raising taxes.

Zoom out: Other key areas contributing to infrastructure needs are education at $14.8 billion, including new school buildings and renovations, and health, safety and social affairs at $8.9 billion, most of which comes from sanitation projects.

  • More than two-thirds of the projects in the report go unfunded, although projects typically receive more funding as they move through early stages of development.

What she says: State Senator Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) tells Axios she would like the state — and city leaders in Nashville — to take a forward-thinking approach to transportation instead of focusing on “road building.”

  • Campbell, who sits on TACIR and the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee, says she wants to see more urgent work on passenger trains and light rail options.
  • “Just paving roads and fortifying bridges here and there isn’t going to get us where we need to go when we have such a burgeoning traffic problem, especially in Middle Tennessee.”

“We’re getting more money from the federal government than we’ve been in a long time,” Campbell says, referring to the federal infrastructure bill passed in 2021.

  • “This is the time to make the big decisions that can pay off in the long run.”

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