Tennessee Officials Say Finalizing Road Projects Meant Separating 'Wants' From 'Needs'

May 17, 2017

When Tennessee lawmakers passed a gas tax increase this spring, they also approved a to-do list of nearly 1,000 projects spread around the state.

Those projects include bridge improvements, road widenings, even a few measures to relieve congestion.

Local officials haven't been shy about telling TDOT their road needs. The challenge was figuring which are most important. The state's chief engineer, Paul Degges, says the department drew a lesson from parenting.

"I mean, my son needs to have some new shoes on his feet. But he wanted to have a bunch of those Nike 110-dollar shoes that I wouldn't buy him. So that's kind of how we came up with the list," he says.

Just meeting those needs is going to take TDOT 14 years. Only about half of the projects on the state's list have even been designed.

That is not a quick process. Degges estimates actual construction work on I-440 through Nashville — one of the most critical projects in Middle Tennessee — won't begin until next summer.

TDOT also wants to be careful not to flood the market with construction projects. That could cause havoc on traffic and might even jack up contractor prices.