Report: Tennessee infrastructure needs at $28.3 billion

Hank Hayes • Oct 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Tennessee’s transportation and utilities needs are bigger than ever, but 91 percent of local public schools are now in good or excellent condition, said a report released Tuesday on the state’s public infrastructure needs.

The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) report placed a $28.3 billion price tag on the state’s 2004 to 2009 infrastructure needs based on information provided by state and local officials.

“Information about the availability of funding to meet Tennessee’s public infrastructure needs indicates that in dollar terms more than half may go unmet. Of the $23.2 billion in needs for which the availability of funding was reported, local officials are confident of only $9 billion of that amount,” the TACIR report said.

The report showed an increase in needs of $14.7 billion since the first state infrastructure inventory was published six years ago and an increase of about $3.9 billion from an October 2005 report.

TACIR said the largest increase fell into the transportation and utilities category, which remains the single largest need overall. The category increased from $10.4 billion to $14.6 billion — with transportation needs alone representing $13.7 billion, or nearly 50 percent, of the state’s total infrastructure needs.

TACIR estimated the cost to put the remaining 9 percent of local schools in good or better condition at $608 million, down $571 million from its previous report. The report noted that 82 percent of all school systems have sufficient space to house teachers and classrooms required by law.

“But systems with high enrollment growth still face challenges,” said state Rep. and TACIR Chairman Randy Rinks, D-Savannah. “The amount needed for enrollment growth and replacement schools increased from $1.3 billion (in the last report) to almost $1.5 billion currently.”

Sullivan County, the state’s sixth most populous county, reported nearly $390 million in infrastructure needs. Washington County, the seventh most populous county, reported needs totaling more than $410 million.

The Sullivan County school system reported having 18 of 802 permanent classrooms in less than good condition. Kingsport City Schools reported that none of its 361 permanent classrooms were in less than good condition, but Bristol City Schools reported having 151 of 256 permanent classrooms in less than good condition.

Washington County said 28 of its 437 permanent classrooms were in less than good condition, while Johnson City Schools reported that none of its 331 classrooms were in less than good condition.

Six of the 10 counties with the greatest needs are in fast-growing Middle Tennessee. Shelby County in West Tennessee placed first.

Among the state’s least populated counties, Hancock County in Northeast Tennessee placed 92nd in reporting $12.8 million worth of infrastructure needs.

“Conventional wisdom holds that population density should produce lower infrastructure costs because of economies of scale...” the report pointed out. “The most likely explanation is that urban development requires more infrastructure per capita than rural development does.”

State lawmakers in 1996 directed TACIR to begin compiling an inventory of the state’s infrastructure needs. To be included in the inventory, infrastructure projects must not be considered normal or routine maintenance and must involve a capital cost of at least $50,000, according to TACIR.

For more go to www.state.tn.us/tacir/infrastructure.htm.

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