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Fri, Jul 11, 2014

Report: Tenn. needs $28B in infrastructure improvements

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According to a new report released by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, the state needs at least $28.3 billion of public infrastructure improvements to be in some stage of development during the five-year period of 2004-2009.

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 current report, which is based on information provided by state and local officials, shows an increase in needs of $14.7 billion since the first inventory was published six years ago and an increase of about $3.9 billion, or 16 percent, from the October 2005 report.

“This department now has the most comprehensive inventory of infrastructure needs in the project’s nine-year history," said Harry Green, executive director of the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. "This report is the second to provide information about the availability of funding. It should concern us all that local officials are only confident of less than half of the funds necessary to meet the needs they have identified.”

The largest increase is in transportation and utilities, which remains the single largest overall.

This category increased from $10.4 billion to $14.6 billion. Transportation needs alone represent $13.7 billion of the total infrastructure needs.

Most of the rest of the increase from the previous inventory was in non-primary education with an increase of $535 million, followed by a jump of $99 million in public health facilities. There were also increases of $93 million in law enforcementand $54 million in K-12 existing school improvements.

This project is the only source of statewide information on the condition of public school buildings and what it would take to get them all in good or better condition.

According to local school officials, 91 percent of local public schools are now in good or excellent condition.

They estimate the cost to put the remaining 9 percent in good or better condition at $608 million, which is a $571 million decrease from the cost reported in the previous report.

They also report that 82 percent of all school systems have sufficient space to house the teachers and classrooms required by the smaller class-size standards imposed by the Education Improvement Act in the fall of 2001. The rest use portable classrooms, non-classroom spaces such as libraries and cafeterias for teaching classes, and classrooms that are empty when other teachers have planning periods.

The commission estimates the cost of the remaining classrooms needed to house these teachers at almost $69 million statewide, which is also a huge drop about 86 percent from the cost estimate in the previous report.

“School officials are to be commended for their continued progress toward providing permanent classrooms for the teachers needed to meet the EIA class size mandates," said Rep. Randy Rinks, chairman of the commission. "But, systems with high enrollment growth still face challenges. The amount needed for enrollment growth and replacement schools increased from $1.3 billion in last year's report to almost $1.5 billion currently.”

Total education infrastructure needs for higher education increased from $5.3 billion to $5.6 billion, about 7 percent, since the last report. This was the second largest increase among the six categories. Needs at the state’s public post-secondary schools grew $535 million and are expected to continue to grow because of lottery scholarship-driven enrollment growth.

Health, safety and welfare programs cost $5.2 billion, which is the third largest cost category and accounts for 18.3 percent of the state’s public infrastructure needs. Water and wastewater needs alone total almost $3.2 billion. Water and wastewater, transportation, and local public education combined represent more than 70 percent of the total cost.

The economic development category, which includes business districts and industrial sites and parks, had the largest percentage change as needs decreased by $442 million from the previous report. Business district development needs decreased $342 million, with more than half of that decrease attributable to a reduction in the estimated cost of a project in Nashville.

Officials said conventional wisdom holds that population density should produce lower infrastructure costs because of economies of scale. However, the commission found that relationship did not exist in Tennessee.

As a result, they said the most likely explanation is that urban development requires more infrastructure per capita than rural development does.

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Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, Business, Education, General Assembly, Health Care, Infrastructure, Public Works, Taxes, Technology, Tennessee
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