transportation

TDOT chief to focus on fed road revenue in new role

News release from AASHTO

PHOENIX – The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Board of Directors today (Friday) elected Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer, as the association’s president. Carlos Braceras P.E., executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation was elected Vice President and Scott Bennett, P.E., director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation, was elected Secretary-Treasurer.

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Bruce Saltsman, former TDOT commissioner, dies aged 87

John Bruce Saltsman Sr., who served served eight years as Tennessee Commissioner of Transportation, has died of cancer at his home. He was 87.

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Cohen wins battle in crusade against shrinking airplane seat space

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen failed last year in an attempt to pass legislation blocking airlines from shrinking the seating space on commercial flights, but this week won approval from a House committee of the proposal as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, reports the Memphis Business Journal.

“Oftentimes in Congress, like in life, things don’t always happen the first time,” Congressman Cohen said.

Cohen’s press release on the committee vote is HERE

New $2.5M anti-litter campaign: ‘Nobody Trashes Tennessee’ succeeds ‘Tennessee Trash’

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has launched a new anti-litter campaign under the slogan “Nobody Trashes Tennessee,” including a TV spot that is perhaps somewhat reminiscent of the old “Tennessee Trash” TV campaign, launched back in the late 1970s.

The “Tennessee Trash” commercial, which became fairly famous, featured a scruffy-looking fellow in a convertible throwing litter all over the landscape and a song including the line: “Ain’t no lower class than Tennessee trash.” Some argued it made the fellow sort of a role model rather than discouraging litter.

The latest TV spot features a young woman driver casually tossing a single drink cup and straw out her car window – then later shows her awakening as a wall caves in and a truck load of trash is dumped into her bedroom as the narrator talks about Tennessee’s litter problems.

Here is the old

Here is the new

TDOT has a news release HERE. The Times Free Press has an article on the new campaign, including some information on the research — including polling and focus groups – that led to its development. An excerpt:

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Haslam differs with Trump, Beavers on highway funding

Gov. Bill Haslam, who toured the state Monday for ceremonial signings of his “IMPROVE Act,” declared along way that he’s not too keen on President Trump’s infrastructure plans — or on state Sen. Mae Beavers declaring she’ll push to repeal of the IMPROVE fuel tax hikes if elected to succeed him as governor.

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Haslam: I’ll be thinking about school bus seat belts for a year or so

While he didn’t support mandatory school seat belt legislation this year, Gov. Bill Haslam says he’ll be thinking about doing so maybe next year, reports the Times Free Press.

Failing in the 2017 legislative session was a bill by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga, to require that new buses put into service starting in 2919. Approved was a measure backed by the governor that calls for more training of school bus drivers and sets some new standards for the job.

“We’re going to continue to do work to say, ‘Are they the right answer today?'” the governor said last week to reporters. “And if they are, then we’ll figure out the financial piece. But as you know, there’s quite a bit of disagreement about whether seat belts were the right thing to do just from a safety standpoint.”

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Haslam lists highway projects to be completed in next three years

News release from Department of Transportation

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer today released TDOT’s annual three year transportation program, featuring approximately $2.6 billion in infrastructure investments for 101 individual project phases in 40 counties, as well as 15 statewide programs.

The three-year program is more robust than previous years, due to funding increases through the IMPROVE Act, which is projected to raise an additional $150 million to meet the state’s infrastructure needs in FY 2018. This increase, combined with $120 million repayment to the highway fund, provides the necessary funds to move several backlogged and new transportation projects forward in the first year of the program. Those include:

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House gets budget back on track with $55M boost in county highway funding

Gov. Bill Haslam’s $37 billion state budget bill got back on the tracks Friday after a derailment on the House floor Thursday.

The House approved the measure (HB511) by a lopsided 83-2 vote after a round of good will speeches that contrasted to cranky commentary the day before.

Approval came after all amendments adopted on Thursday were stripped off the bill and one major new one added that its sponsor, Republican Rep. Judd Mathney of Tullahoma, said was “negotiated long and hard last night.”

The amendment takes $55 million of surplus money that Haslam wanted to send to the state Department of Transportation for extra road construction money and instead sends the $55 million to all 95 counties, divided among them according to the formula now used to distribute state highway funds to the counties. It’s similar to an amendment proposed on Thursday by Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, that failed by one vote at the time.

House approval sets up a Senate vote on the budget bill Monday and, with approval there, both chambers will be in positon to adjourn the 2017 legislative session by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Alexander, Corker, Duncan seek fed focus on alleged defective guardrails

Three Tennessee congressmen – Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, along with Rep. John Duncan Jr. – are asking federal officials to consider revoking their approval for the use of highway guardrails linked to four fatalities in Tennessee, reports WJHL-TV.

In the letter, they asked FHWA Acting Deputy Administrator Butch Waidelich, Jr. to consider revoking its letter of eligibility for the X-Lite Terminal Guard rail issued in 2011.

The eligibility letter indicates the product has been tested and is eligible for federal reimbursements for states that use it.

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House approves gas tax bill 60-37; Senate approves 25-6

The House approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s tax package, including increases in gas and diesel fuel taxes, on a 60-37 vote Wednesday after more than four hours of debate.

The Senate followed shortly afterwards — with considerably less debate – on a 25-6 vote.

There are some minor differences on the bill, one clarifying effective dates on parts of the tax package, that must be resolved before it goes to the governor. But should occur quickly, clearing the way for work on the state budget next week.

In the House, there were 80 amendments to deal with. The latest governor-approved version of HB534 raises the gas tax by six cents per gallon and the diesel fuel tax by ten cents per gallon – phased in over a three-year period. That’s coupled with a cut in corporate taxes for manufacturers, a reduction on the state sales tax on groceries and a cut in the Hall income tax on investment income.

Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma, acted as sponsor on the House floor, successfully tabling a long list of hostile amendments while others were ultimately withdrawn. A key vote came on a proposal by Rep. David Hawk, R-Rogersville, to rewrite the governor’s bill to exclude both the tax increases and the tax cuts. The Hawk amendment would instead have diverted sales tax revenue from purchase of vehicles to the state’s highway fund.

Hawk’s amendment failed with 38 representatives supporting it, 58 opposed.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, eyeing a run for governor,  voted against the Haslam proposal when it first came under as an amendment, then voted for Hawk alternative plan. But she then voted yes on the final vote on the bill, as amended.

Excerpt from the AP’s report:

“While this was not the plan I preferred — I definitely preferred the other plan — at the end of the day infrastructure is a limited role of government and we need to perform it well,” Harwell told reporters after the vote.

The speaker said she doesn’t anticipate revived efforts to change the funding mechanism if the bill ends up in a conference committee to iron out differences.

…The House vote on the bill illustrated how closely divided the Republican supermajority is on the measure, with 37 members voting for and 35 voting against. Democrats voted 23-2 in favor of the amendment.

House roll call vote (cut and pasted from legislative website – which also has votes on amendments, parliamentary moves and such HERE if you click on ‘votes’ at the top right of the page.).

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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