NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Transportation Commissioner Jerry Nicely late last year proposed issuing a $145 million bond to close a 19-mi. (30.6 km) gap in a bypass around Nashville by the end of 2011.
Nicely told Gov. Phil Bredesen in a budget hearing that issuing the bond would allow the state to combine what would otherwise be three separate road projects on state Route 840, and cut the projection completion time at least in half.
The 80-mi. (128.7 km) stretch runs in a southern half-circle around Nashville, connecting Interstate 40 in Lebanon in the east and Dickson in the west. The Transportation Department has begun work on a 7-mi. (11.3 km) stretch of the remaining gap.
Bredesen, a Democrat, noted that issuing bonds would be a significant departure from the way Tennessee has historically paid for road projects without going into debt.
The governor said completing the stretch as quickly as possible makes economic sense, but that he worries that officials in other parts of the state would quickly line up to get similar financing.
“My concern is that once you get on that slope, it’s going to be a slippery slope and there’s going to be a legislative delegation for every road project in the state of Tennessee to come in and approve bonds for it,” he said.
“I’m afraid we’ll wake up one morning, and the pay-as-you-go road program has disappeared,” he said.
Nicely called the SR840 project unique and worthy of the special funding.
“We’ve got an 80-mile loop around one of our busiest, most congested cities,” he said. “It’s been in planning for 20 years, and it’s got a 19-mile hole in it.”
“I don’t know of another where you started one side and sort of met in the middle, and had all these delays,” Nicely said.
The bypass had to overcome environmental concerns, including a yearlong injunction from a federal judge that was lifted in 2003.
Nicely later in 2003 canceled a plan to build a northern loop for SR840.
The question about whether to issue road bonds comes in the same year state lawmakers made another departure from traditional road funding by creating a pilot project for tolls roads.
The new law provides for two pilot toll projects: one bridge and one road.
Bredesen was coy when asked whether he would consider making the final stretch of SR840 a toll road if he decides against the bond.
“That’s interesting, I’ve never thought of that,” he said. “We’ll see.”