Paid express lanes proposed as solution to Tennessee congestion issues

TDOT plans to address transportation issues in Tennessee. WSMV's Tosin Fakile reports.
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 8:29 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2022 at 7:04 AM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - The Tennessee Department of Transportation said the state has reached a critical point when it comes to transportation and said that something needs to be done. One solution is something that would involve putting in place something kind of similar to toll roads.

TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley held a press conference on Wednesday and highlighted the challenges the state faces when in regard to transportation and mentioned the three main solutions the department is looking into to tackle the challenges.

“Doing nothing is kind of not an option,” Eley said.

The challenges were boiled down to three things; congestion, delivery, and workforce according to Eley.

And TDOT looking to take action now on bettering roads is welcoming news to Tennessee drivers.

“I think everyone wants good roads. We want something to be smooth and not to be stressed just to get to work. So I think it’s a great idea,” said Jay Horner who lives in Nashville.

“[Roads] could use some improvement. Use some love,” said Grayceann and Landry Witt who live in Nashville.

TDOT officials said there’s about $26 billion in a new construction that needs to be done to address congestion in the state. TDOT said with nothing being done, commute times will increase by 60% and intercity travel times between major Tennessee cities will increase by up to one hour

The department said their proposal to get more funding and solve the transportation issues doesn’t include raising the gas tax or the state going into road debt. Eley said the current method of funding for the department is not sustainable.

The proposed solution is three parts:

  • Public-Private Partnership
  • Parity with Gas and electric vehicles; alternative revenue sources
  • Increased Alternative Delivery

One idea Under Public Private Partnership is something TDOT calls “Choice Lanes”; sort of like a toll road but it’s not a mandatory road to pay to drive on. Tennessee drivers have the option to take the “Choice Lane” if they want to get to their destination faster.

“Choice lanes to where people have a choice to be able to get into those lanes or not,” said Commissioner Eley.

TDOT Commissioner told WSMV 4, the way it would is the department would identify the best areas for those lanes and then put out bids for a private contractor who would come in and build the lanes.

“They would come in design and build and finance that project and would do it over a period of time,” said Commissioner Eley.

WSMV 4′s Tosin Fakile asked the commissioner what rate would drivers have to pay if they chose a Choice Lane.

“We would create as part of this process an oversight board that was part of the state, similar to other boards and commissions that we have and they would set the rate,” said Eley.

He said the Governor doesn’t like the idea of a toll road which Eley said the Choice Lane isn’t.

Eley said Choice Lanes would free up state dollars for rural investments.

Another proposal to improve transportation is increasing alternative delivery to quicken how fast projects are completed.

TDOT says at the moment t takes about 15 years for the completion of one project. They want to cut that down to 5 years.

TDOT says alternative delivery is a process whereby if restrictions are removed in some phases in the process of a project it would allow for better efficiency.

“In both cases, there is a monetary cap or number cap on the number of projects we can deliver using those methods,” said Will Reid, TDOT Deputy Commissioner & Chief Engineer. “It’s very important we have enough runway to decide how we’re going to deliver because new projects are coming in all the time. If we have to stop and start the project, it costs taxpayers money,” he added.

Another idea to increase revenue for TDOT to help with road improvement, the department suggests both gas and electric vehicles pay the same amount.

“What that means is everybody pays the same thing electric vehicle owner’s contributing the same amount as gas and combustion,” Eley said. “Right now electric vehicles pay a $100 registration fee, which would be elevated to some amount that would be equal,” he added.

TDOT said the issues and solutions have been presented to legislators. Giving them time to look at it ahead of the legislative session next year 2023.

You can see more of TDOT’s proposal right here.