Jeremy Styron | News-Herald
Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer speaks to local volunteers and community leaders during a Lenoir City Civitan Club meeting Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Lenoir City.
Volunteers and local leaders gathered with state officials to
gain insight into the Tennessee Department of Transportation operations Tuesday during a Lenoir City
Civitan Club meeting at First Baptist Church.
Commissioner John Schroer discussed steps that
his office was taking to remain efficient in addressing road repairs and renovations amid growing
demand and limited funds from the federal government.
He said starting in 2010, funding
through the U.S. Highway Trust Fund had leveled off even as the state experienced higher needs in
road repairs. The trend has continued through this year.
"In 2010, it's broke, which means
there is no money in reserves," Schroer said while referring to a graphic. "There's no opportunity
of getting money, and our required highways are going up as you see right there, and the trust fund
additions, the money that's coming in is actually flat."
The state Department of
Transportation has a budget of $1.8 billion, half of which is funded by the federal
Schroer said ongoing debt ceiling concerns in Washington were pinching the
state's ability to address required highway renovations.
"If they start cutting, we’re going
to start getting less and less dollars from the federal government, which means we're going to have
less and less dollars, not only to build new things, but to actually repair what we have, and that’s
really where our biggest concern is," he said.
He highlighted some positive statistics,
noting that Tennessee has the third best roads in the nation. Meanwhile, the state's per capita
spending is last. His office has embraced innovation and efficiency in repairing and building roads,
including combining the maintenance and construction departments and using more efficient
The state department also does not issue debt to pay its construction
"We are a pay-as-you-go state and not a lot of people know that," Schroer said. "We
pay no money in interest, and that means a lot of stuff, and it helps us do what we do, helps us be
efficient, helps us spend less dollars per capita than any other state in the nation."
said to keep the state from having to pay interest, his department often dices projects up into
parts. A $90 million plan, for instance, might be divided into three $30 million
"It does make it a little bit slower, and it does make it a little bit more
expensive because we have to gear up for each and every project as we go forward, but it also keeps
us out of debt," Schroer said, noting that he was determined not to take out debt on construction
"I tell people I'm the 29th commissioner of transportation,” Schroer said. "The 28
that came before me were able to do this without debt. My legacy will not be that I was the first
one to put debt (on the department), so I do not want that to happen."
W. Dale Hurst, Lenoir
City administrator, asked Schroer about environmental constraints placed on the state and
municipalities when attempting to get a construction projects approved.
"Is it too
regulated?" Hurst asked.
"Yes," Schroer answered resoundingly, adding that because of the
various federal guidelines that must be met, the state can build a road in a little less than 12
"At some point and time the quality of human life outweighs the quality of nonhuman
life, and we need to get past that a little bit," Schroer said.
County Road Department
Superintendent Eddie Simpson asked about additional funding for county road
Schroer said he deals with the same concerns at the state level, adding that of
the $10 billion worth of construction projects under development, he can only fund $850 million per
"We know the counties are suffering," Schroer said. "Your job and my job are exactly
the same. I just have more zeros behind my job. I mean really it's exactly the same. We struggle
with the same things that you struggle with, and it's tough."