As I sit here at my desk working on this column, it's a crisp, clear fall day in East Tennessee! The leaves are turning, though our largely dry summer means that the colors aren't as nice as they could be. The football season is well along, and while our record isn't the best, there hasn't been a game yet that wasn't exciting. Fall and football—it just doesn't get much better!
We did have a busy summer at TTAP, as I'm sure you all did, too. While we don't teach as many classes in the summer, since our normal attendees are busy then, we were fully engaged doing our technical assistance activities throughout the state. Please keep those calls coming in! With assistance from FHWA and TDOT, we conducted a high-friction surface treatment product demonstration in Nashville. We plan to have more of these in the months to come. Suggestions on products or approaches of interest will be welcomed!
Movement on a long-term transportation bill continues in Washington. Meanwhile, a series of last-minute extensions has kept highway funding flowing. The Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee did its job and the Senate passed its version of the bill back in late July. The House is working on a bill, with a scheduled vote for early November. Finance remains a key issue, and the Senate bill contains funding for only the first three years of the six period. Proposed changes in truck regulations also are contentious. Some truckers would like to see twin trailer ("pup") length increase from 28 feet to 33 feet nationwide, gross truck weight increase from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds, and minimum truck driver age decrease from 21 to 18. Other proposals affect the driver hours-of-service regulations. We will have to see how these issues resolve themselves in the final House bill, and then in the conference committee.
Of course, for those at the local level here in Tennessee, the state motor fuel taxes are a key revenue component. We know the story—Tennessee's last gasoline tax increase occurred in 1988 and its last diesel fuel tax increase followed in 1989. Since then, inflation has reduced the purchasing power of every tax dollar collected by about half. Increased fuel economy further decreases the tax revenue collected per vehicle-mile of travel. Eventually, electric vehicles that pay no fuel tax may further affect revenue.
Earlier this year, Georgia and South Carolina raised their fuel taxes. Across the country, nearly a third of the states have followed suit with some sort of increase in revenue for transportation programs. Tennessee highway agencies can make as strong a case as any that additional funding is needed to maintain infrastructure. Governor Haslam took his case across the state, visiting 15 cities to highlight transportation needs. Will his message resonate with the public and be acted upon by our lawmakers? We shall see.
That's it for now. As always, if we can help, please don't hesitate to call or email. TTAP looks forward to assisting you. Stay cool and be safe!
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996 | 865-974-1000
The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System