Tennessee could see highway tolls soon

Published 3:36 pm Monday, May 1, 2023

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Tennessee could soon start receiving proposals for toll lanes after the Legislature approved and Gov. Bill Lee signed what he referred to as the Transportation Modernization Act.

The bill allows the Tennessee Department of Transportation to negotiate deals for private companies to add lanes to Tennessee highways and make those toll lanes, with the private company collecting tolls to recoup their portion of negotiated project costs.

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The bill also put a one-time $3.3 billion into a fund to cover road infrastructure improvements across the state, with the plan being for that funding to be divided equally among the state’s three grand divisions.

“This will do so without raising taxes, without issuing road debt and without spending a disproportionate amount of funds in our urban areas to the detriment of our rural communities,” Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, said as the bill passed the Senate.

Massey explained in committee that terms on the toll lanes will be negotiated, giving an example of an 80% to 20% split of road construction costs with a private company paying the larger portion and then getting the first dollars that come in from tolls.

The companies cannot be from four restricted countries – China, Iran, North Korea and Russia. The company will lease the lanes and the state will retain ownership.

“As families and businesses move to Tennessee in record numbers, we need a transportation plan to keep up with the pace,” Lee said in a statement after signing the bill. “Our strategy will meet our state’s transportation needs across rural and urban communities, without new taxes or debt. I commend the General Assembly for its partnership to prepare Tennessee for continued growth and economic opportunity.”

The bill, which went into effect immediately April 17, will mean electric vehicles owners will be charged a $200 registration fee starting next year that will rise to $274 and then begin rising with the consumer price index up to 3% annually starting in 2027. Hybrid vehicles will begin at $100 and rise in cost starting in 2027.