Sen. Crowe hosts IMPROVE Act forum

Published 8:49 pm Friday, May 19, 2017

Like any sizeable piece of legislation, questions were expected to continue following the passage of the IMPROVE Act by the Tennessee General Assembly.
To help alleviate fears and address issues, Sen. Rusty Crowe (R–Johnson City), chairman for the U.S. Senate Health and Welfare Committee, hosted a town hall meeting in Erwin Friday morning with Rep. John Holsclaw, Jr. (R-Elizabethton), Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) officials and leadership and road superintendents from Carter, Washington and Unicoi counties.
“I was actually visiting the area recently during the Ramp Festival (in Flag Pond),” Crowe said. “There were constituents that raised concerns about the IMPROVE Act and were confused. And it’s not the first I’ve heard of this. We wanted to take the time out to host the meeting to help give an update and provide an update about the Act.
“We haven’t done anything in 30 years for our roads,” he continued. “We don’t borrow many like other states for our roads. I think we’re No. 2 or No. 2 behind Texas in roads and they have around a $21 billion road debit. We are in a situation now where cars are getting better gas mileage, salaries go up and we couldn’t keep up with maintaining our roads.”
While providing a 20 percent tax break to food, the IMPROVE Act saw gas tax raised by six percent and diesel by 10 percent. Other portions of the bill include one percent off the hall tax, until it disappears, and assistance with business and property tax relief.
According to the state, the plan is a net tax cut for Tennesseans, which was reportedly backed up by Americans for Tax Reform – an organization that opposes tax increases.
Carter County had one project come through TDOT’s three-year plan, a little over four-mile stretch of West Elk Avenue that spans from Grindstaff Motors to U.S. 19 E near Food City.
The project is estimated to cost over $20 million and will undergo right-of-way acquisition around October of this year with construction pegged for year three. The project will include a portion of widening West Elk, along with paving and other measures.
The county’s part of Next Tennessee: Transportation plan includes the West Elk project, one bridge on a state highway and 26 bridges to be replaced on county roads. The 28 projects are pegged with an estimated cost of $40,945,500 but the county will receive an additional $526,990 in state aid for the upcoming fiscal year.
Humphrey commended the efforts of the officials and county road superintendent Roger Colbaugh for his work on addressing roadways and bridges. Colbaugh supplied Sen. Crowe, Rep. Holsclaw and TDOT reps with a list of bridges in the county that needed assistance and a  list of over 20 proposed paving projects in the county for the upcoming year. TDOT stated a list of bridge projects is expected to be unveiled in three to four weeks.
Concerns brought forth the IMPROVE Act included how the state could handle the cost of energy and other items moving forward.
Steve Borden with TDOT alluded to the fact the issue isn’t a TDOT issue, more so a national issue and is being heavily looked at with all parties involved. Rep. Holsclaw added he received the bill with over 400-plus amendments. After studying for two weeks, he said he thought of it to be the best case possible for the state.
Other issues brought up in the meeting included Washington County and Unicoi County not being involved in TDOT’s three-year plan. Borden explained that projects are broken up into different phases and that while projects are being addressed, they just haven’t lined up within the current plan in place.

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