County Mayor Shelvy Linville placed a resolution before the County Commissioners on Monday, asking TDOT to hurry along the Hwy 10 renovation project. Linville was responding to a three year project plan put out by Governor Haslam and TDOT, which did not include the construction phase of the Hwy 10 project.
In the resolution, and in written correspondence with Commissioner Schroer, Linville cites “numerous injury accidents and many fatalities” that have occurred on the 1.7 mile stretch of road, and says that the project has been discussed for years, “only to have promises turn into disappointments.”
According to TDOT stats, in 2008-2012, there have been four fatalities, 66 injury accidents, and 82 accidents without injury on Hwy 10 between the Trousdale/Macon line and Lafayette city limits.
In response to these complaints, State Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Kelly Keisling announced that they will host a public meeting on Thursday, May 23 at the Macon County Chamber of Commerce in Lafayette to discuss the issue. Present to answer questions will be TDOT’s Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer Paul Degges.
We spoke to Degges in preparation for the meeting. Citizens are encouraged to bring further questions on Thursday.
Degges explained that every highway project has three phases: engineering, right-of-way and acquisitions, and construction. When TDOT funds the engineering on a project, that means that they’ve committed to bring the project to completion. In its 2005-2006 budget, TDOT funded the SR-10 project, committing to complete it.
Degges said that at the end of the engineering phase, which costs about 10% of what the whole project will cost, TDOT has a set of plans to use in buying right of way.
Right of way and acquisitions is the next phase, and it costs about 15% of the total project cost. TDOT funded this second phase in their 2011-2012 budget.
This phase involves finishing the rest of the project plan, getting environmental permits, appraising the land, buying the land, and relocating the families who might live on the land. For SR-10, there are 28 parcels of land to buy, and 16 families to relocate. This process, Degges estimated, should be finished by summer of 2014.
“Nationally, the average time from when we start a project to when you’re driving on it is about 13-15 years,” said Degges. “In TN we’re a little better than that; we’re about in the 12 year range. This project is pretty much on schedule; we started up in ‘05 and it’ll be ready for construction probably by fiscal year ’15.”
So why didn’t Hwy 10 show up on the three year plan? Degges explained that the three year plan is not the same as a three year set budget.
“This project’s construction phase showed up in 2012, in year two of our three year plan. The state of TN only passes an annual budget; we don’t pass multi-year budgets. So everything in year two and three were tentative in nature.”
In other words, the three year plan is not a three year budget. It’s an outline.
“Our heavy construction budget is all Federal funds,” Degges continued. “State funds aren’t used for these types of projects. When Congress passed the most recent bill in July of last year, it changed the money coming to TN. Congress is taking an approach that appears to steer more dollars toward higher volume roads.
“So the fund code we use to do this type of project was basically cut in half. We used to get about $200 million a year in what we call our STB fund code, and that has dropped to about $100 million. Out of that I have to spend about half on bridges and paving roads. So I’m ending up with around $50 million statewide. And this project by itself is probably a $15, $16 million project.
“No project has been canceled; the project will happen. This is a good project; it’s a sound project, so we will get there. But we’re one of five states in the US that has no transportation debt. We don’t borrow money to build roads. We live within our means. So the project will happen, but we’re just going to have to tighten up and make sure we get all the right of way in hand and be ready.
“I know the perception out there is they want to see bulldozers… and I understand the concern, but the bottom line is, we have to be stewards of the dollars.”
“What I had hoped to be able to do was to fund it in this fiscal year starting July 1, and then as soon as I finished the right of way, I’d just start with contract. But in reality, [this change] will probably have little if any impact on the completion date of the project.”
Degges added that phase two of the project is on schedule, and construction, which would have begun in summer of 2014, is now likely to begin just a little later in the year of 2014.
“I had 311 days set up for appraisals, and 318 days set up for acquisition,” said Degges. “Those times overlap about two months, and then during that same time period, I had 179 days lined up for getting permits. So what I was hoping to do was be under contract [for construction] next summer, and it’ll probably have to be pushed more towards the end of the year.”
The construction phase, he said, will last about 24 months, and the road will remain open to traffic throughout. This puts likely completion time at the end of 2016.
“There’s a caveat here,” Degges added. “The bill that we use to fund transportation expires next September. And if Congress doesn’t pass another bill, we won’t have money to build anything. So my job is to be ready. What I don’t want is for the money to be there and us not to be ready.”