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'Build With Us' | TDOT proposes 'Public-Private Partnerships' to address future congestion issues in state

TDOT also said that it aims to reduce the number of years it takes to complete projects from 15 years to five years.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — During a meeting with reporters on Wednesday, the Tennessee Department of Transportation said it is facing three major challenges in coming years: congestion on state roads, longer times to complete projects and fewer workers in its ranks.

It explained the issues and proposed solutions in a presentation called "Build With Us." That presentation said the state has seen a 9% population increase over the last decade and added 137,100 jobs to the state's economy in a single year. With more commerce comes more challenges to seamlessly move people, goods and services across the state.

To address issues with congestion, they said they would need an additional $26 billion in funding. The money would be used to keep pace with the state's growth. However, without an increase in the gas tax or issuing debt, they said the state would need to get creative to address congestion.

They proposed "Public-Private Partnerships" (P3s) to address congestion. They said the partnerships would allow them to build new roads which could address urban congestion in the state, and they said the partnerships could alleviate challenges hauling goods through Tennessee.

"A government-only approach isn't working. We need to unleash the power of the private sector for long-term success," they said in a video explaining the proposal.

They said they could approach the partnerships in one of two ways. First, they could use most public funds to address congestion in urban areas. Or, they could use companies to build roads in urban areas, freeing up public money to invest in rural areas. The second option would lead to projects such as building three-lane interstates, TDOT said.

In P3 projects, 70% of work in traffic projects is done by local contractors, they said. Some of those projects could include adding "fee lanes" to existing roads. In these kinds of projects, lanes are built onto existing roads that drivers can only use if they pay a fee.

"We see P3s and Choice Lanes as a win-win for taxpayers and the road-building industry," TDOT said.

By partnering with the private sector, TDOT said they will be better prepared to accommodate business growth in the state.

To address their second challenge, TDOT said they need more tools in their toolbox to speed up projects. They said it currently takes around 15 years to complete a project.

To cut down on that time, they proposed an "alternative delivery" approach to projects, which can be a part of P3s. Specific approaches can vary between projects with this strategy.

And finally, TDOT is taking a new approach so they could attract and retain workers. They said currently, salaries for employees are up to 15% below market level. So, they said they planned to eliminate 500 vacant positions and use the $34 million that would pay workers in those positions to instead boost the salaries of its existing 3,600 workers.

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