MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Construction on the Tennessee segment of Interstate 69 has been put on hold until the federal government provides more money for the project, state officials said.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has made no official announcement about the delay, but TDOT spokeswoman B.J. Doughty recently told The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/W0oYK3) that "the commissioner has made it very clear that until there is some kind of (federal) promise on I-69, we can't continue making investments because we can't build it all ourselves."
"They (the federal government) have not said they are going to dedicate funding for it," she said. "What the commissioner wants is some dedicated funding for I-69, not only to Tennessee but to other states as well. We're ready to proceed when there is dedicated funding."
Tennessee is among seven states that I-69 will pass through. Tennessee's segment of the interstate runs from Memphis north to South Fulton on the Kentucky border.
Officials say Tennessee has invested about $200 million in the I-69 corridor in planning, design and right-of-way acquisition.
TDOT estimates it will take from $1.5 billion to $2 billion to build and complete the project through the state, according to Nichole Lawrence, TDOT's West Tennessee community relations officer.
Normally on interstate highway projects, the federal government pays 80 to 90 percent of the construction costs and the state pays 10 to 20 percent. Tennessee is receiving its normal federal highway funding allotment of about $600 million a year for heavy construction, widening interstates and state highway improvements.
TDOT could use some of that money for I-69, but it would be diverted away from other projects statewide. And the state has only about $40 million available for fully state-funded projects, said Paul Degges, TDOT's deputy commissioner and chief engineer.
"What the commissioner is saying is, if you look at all the transportation needs across the state, we still need $1.5 billion for that facility when there are a lot of other needs," Degges said.
Last month, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer joined state lawmakers, former governors and local officials in an extravagant ceremony to open the final segment of State Route 840. The 78-mile stretch of highway that loops south of Nashville took 26 years to build and cost the state $753 million — none of which included federal funding.
Opponents of the use of federal funding say its absence in the building of State Route 840 saved the state millions of dollars in interest.
Nevertheless, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said he questions the decision concerning I-69 and plans to ask the Senate Transportation Committee to hold hearings on the matter.
"This is touted as a huge economic engine for every state touched by I-69," Kyle said. "For the commissioner to just do that I think is unusual. We've never had any public discussion of that decision with the Legislature, particularly in the affected counties. They get a huge percentage of federal funding."
Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com