Funding crisis creates opportunities to re-orient transportation spending

Lower-cost upgrades to Route 29 in Charlottesville avoided construction of an unneeded and costly bypass by improving existing infrastructure to keep traffic flowing on a busy route lined with businesses. (© Jack Looney)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam recently finished a 15-city tour highlighting a challenge common across the country: Federal and state transportation funding—largely dependent on gas taxes—is not keeping pace with infrastructure needs.

“We can't keep going like we are now,” Haslam said. “It's real simple. Vehicles get about twice as good mileage now as they did the last time we addressed this 26 years ago. Yet maintaining and paving roads costs three times as much. That doesn't work forever."

Tennessee is not alone in this struggle as transportation funding has been a hot topic of debate throughout the Southeast. Members of a transportation committee in the Alabama House of Representatives just passed a bill in September recommending an increase in their state gas tax. Meanwhile, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia all recently passed major transportation funding legislation. In addition, both North Carolina and Virginia have introduced new project-ranking systems designed to improve the quality of proposals moving forward.

In each of these states much of the debate around this issue centers on where to find more money, too often neglecting to ask how the money could best be spent.

“We need to stop spending the money we do have on the outsized priorities of the past and start focusing scarce resources on transportation solutions that will serve the diverse needs of our growing populations for decades to come,” explained SELC attorney Kym Hunter.

To that end, SELC advocates:

  • scrapping costly and destructive highway boondoggles that are far too common in our region,
  • increasing the efficiency of existing infrastructure,
  • adopting a “fix it first” approach that prioritizes maintenance, and
  • creating processes to evaluate and prioritize project proposals.

A balanced reconsideration of funding and spending also means moving beyond an emphasis on new and expanded highways that has dominated transportation programs in the Southeast. Instead, we need to provide a greater range of transportation choices, such as trains, express buses, bike paths, and light rail. As states grapple with these funding challenges, they need to seize the opportunity to move beyond expensive, unwarranted highway projects towards a more financially and environmentally sustainable transportation approach.

More News

SELC op-ed: Virginians deserved better from senators on electric rates

SELC Senior Attorney Will Cleveland says what every Dominion customer felt as we saw our energy company and our state senators crushing every cha...

Frontier Logistics agrees to $1.2 million settlement in pellet-pollution lawsuit

Frontier Logistics has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged the company spilled plastic pellets from its former facility a...

Great hikes from the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains

Aside from their boundless beauty and opportunity, one of the most magnificent things about our American national forests is our shared responsib...

Hydrogeologic report warns of pipeline threats to Memphis drinking water source

A hydrogeologic report presented to Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) warns that the Byhalia crude oil pipeline proposed by Valero Energy Corp....

Landmark clean transportation bills advance in Virginia

Transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution in Virginia, as it is across the South. People drive over 230 million miles every day in...

Tennessee Congressman urges White House to rescind Memphis pipeline permit

Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) wrote to President Biden urging that he direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rescind its recently issued na...

More Stories