- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Raising taxes is never popular, but a new coalition says the lack of funding for Tennessee’s roads and bridges has reached a crisis point requiring action.

Tennessee has more than $8 billion in unfunded transportation needs, thanks to a gas tax that has remained unchanged from 21.4 cents per gallon since 1989, the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee noted Wednesday.

The coalition said it intends to push lawmakers to find a permanent transportation funding solution by 2016 - though the coalition isn’t saying at this point how it thinks that should be done.

A state comptroller’s report from January warned the gas tax is no longer sufficient to maintain existing infrastructure and meet long-term needs. Gov. Bill Haslam acknowledged the problem earlier this year but said he wanted a year to develop a comprehensive plan.

Coalition member Bill Moore is also chairman of the Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance and a former chief engineer for TDOT. He said there are hundreds of state projects in need of funding. That doesn’t include all of the city and county projects that rely on the same depleted funding poll.

The coalition’s Susie Alcorn is the executive director at the Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance.

“If we don’t fix this problem now, we risk losing economic development opportunities and making our roads less safe for the driving public,” she said.

Alcorn said the coalition has not taken a position on where the needed transportation money should come from. The coalition was formed late last year from groups representing municipalities, county highway officials, truckers, drivers, public transportation users, builders and engineers.

Options in the comptroller’s report included increasing the gas tax or tying it to inflation so that it rises automatically. The comptroller also suggested issuing bonds, charging a separate gasoline sales tax, paying for roads out of the general fund, authorizing local transportation taxes, or seeking private funding.

“All options should be on the table,” Alcorn said. The Transportation Department will soon be in maintenance-only mode as the upcoming budget includes no new projects, she said.

A Vanderbilt University poll released on Wednesday found only 25 percent of voters support a gas tax increase, but Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told reporters the issue needs to be addressed. He hopes to do so next year.

“When gas cars got 16 miles to the gallon in 1989 and now they’re getting 28 miles per gallon driving the same number of miles, that’s a problem,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this report.


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