FRANKLIN – The future of 13 Tennessee road-widening projects totaling more than $200 million hangs in the balance as federal funds for the nation's highways could wither in August.
Unless Congress intervenes with a federal allocation to refresh the Highway Trust Fund, federal transportation leaders will start cutting money sent to state agencies by Aug. 1, triggering cutbacks in states' road projects.
In Tennessee, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer has set a list of 13 road projects the agency originally planned to launch in fiscal year 2014 but is now pushing back to 2015 because of the highway funding crisis.
Schroer, who has spoken out about the funding cuts, warns that the cuts' impact goes beyond just roadway construction.
"While we are keeping our assets in top condition, the backlog of projects to reduce congestion, capitalize on economic opportunities and invest in our future continues to grow," Schroer said in a statement. "Dramatic cuts in the federal aid program will require the department to reallocate state resources, effectively eliminating any projects that increase capacity and support economic development."
The 13 projects facing delay are spread across Tennessee, records show.
The most immediate impact for Nashville drivers would be felt in the delayed start of the $37 million Interstate 65/State Route 109 interchange in Robertson/Sumner counties. That project was set to be put out for construction bids in July, but that has been delayed.
Other projects facing delay include the $66.4 million construction on Interstate 69 in Obion County and $37.9 million construction of State Route 29 in Roane/Morgan counties.
The problem has loomed on the horizon for years. Last year, Schroer created two budgets for TDOT: one budget with federal money and one budget without. If the federal funding is eventually reduced, TDOT's budget would drop from $1.8 billion to about $900 million.
Because of possible cuts, TDOT officials also did not include for the first time any new construction projects in the agency's three-year building plan when it was developed earlier this year.
Leaders trace the problem to how the U.S. pays for highway construction. The Highway Trust Fund relies on gasoline taxes. While road construction costs have surged, the gasoline tax rate of 18.3 cents per gallon hasn't changed since its last increase in 1993. Sen. Bob Corker has announced a plan to increase the gasoline tax in June by 12 cents.
Even as TDOT prepares for cutbacks, work won't stop on projects that are already underway, such as the $46.1 million widening of the Goose Creek Bypass/I-65 interchange in Williamson County.