Nashville City Paper - Judith Tackett
Congress passed a new $286.4 million transportation bill late last week, which includes funding for several Nashville projects and overall will secure funding for Tennessee roads over six fiscal years.
The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) replaces the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Centuray (TEA-21) and provides about 80 percent of the funding for highway projects. The TEA-21 was enacted in 1998 and expired Sept. 30, 2003. Several extensions have kept funding levels for Tennessee at about $600 million per year.
The new bill will increase Tennessee's highway formula funding by 26.71 percent, which will come to an average of an additional $168 million per year.
"Better roads mean better jobs," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said. "This bill provides funding to improve our interstates, highways and transportation infrastructure, which are critical to economic development in the 5th District and across the state."
Kim Keelor, public information officer of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, said the bill will not change TDOT's budget in 2006-2007 dramatically.
"But it is still too early to know exact details," Keelor said. "Our finance staff is working closely with the Federal Highway Administration and hopes to have a clearer picture of exactly how the bill will impact our budget in detail in the next few weeks."
Tennessee is a donor state, meaning it receives less federal tax dollars than it submits. Tennessee currently receives about 90.5 cents for each dollar it sends to the federal government. Under SAFETEA-LU, those 90.5 cents will be increased to 91.5 cents in 2007 and 92 cents in 2008.
Close to 20 percent of funding is earmarked for mass transit projects. Tennessee will receive $216.7 million in mass transit funds from 2006 through 2009.
"After a long and hard fought process, I'm pleased that we've been able to secure a highway bill that funds Tennessee's transportation priorities," Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said.
SAFETEA-LU also authorizes $44.4 million for specific transit projects in Tennessee.