NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Some of Tennessee’s leaders are expressing an openness to considering toll lanes in the Volunteer State to help pay for roads and bridges and congestion reduction projects.
In a budget meeting with the Governor, the Tennessee Department of Transportation said that they don’t have the revenue needed to address the state’s congestion and other infrastructure needs.
TDOT said due in part to rising highway construction costs, inflation, population growth and the rise of electric and more fuel-efficient vehicles, their current sources of money aren’t enough.
“Our collections are down at this point,” said TDOT Chief Financial Officer Joe Galbato. “We are actually down $4.5 million year over year.”
After that meeting, Governor Lee was asked if he would support measures like toll roads and lanes to increase TDOT funding, and he didn’t give a decisive yes or no at the time.
“I have asked the Department of Transportation to give me options,” Lee said. “We need to invest in our roads and our bridges. We are one of the fastest-growing states.”
Tennessee Senate Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Becky Massey, (R-Knoxville), said she is open to the idea of toll lanes but would want to make sure they are optional.
“Anything we would potentially do would need to be in addition to what we have I think at this point I’m open to all possible solutions,” she said. “If [drivers] realize their time is more valuable than sitting on a more heavily trafficked road, then they choose to do that.”
She stressed that she would not support getting rid of anything like HOV lanes, but knows that reducing congestion and getting rid of potholes is important to her constituents.
“Roads are absolutely the number one issue people talk to me about,” she said.
However, this isn’t a new idea in Tennessee.
In 2007, the General Assembly passed a bill to allow TDOT to explore a pilot toll project, but none ever came to fruition.
On TDOT’s website, the department writes, “None of the projects fully met the criteria; therefore, none of the projects were selected for the pilot program.”
In addition, in 2021, Vanderbilt, TSU, and TDOT partnered to begin studying whether HOV lanes should be converted to toll lanes.
Yet, toll lanes aren’t the only option, according to Sen. Massey.
She said that changing the gas tax, forming public-private partnerships, increasing funding to TDOT and/or continuing on the road they are on are also options.
But she finds doing nothing to be the worst possible solution.