It is clear that the ground work is being laid to raise the state gas tax in this next legislative session and there is a good argument to be made that it needs to be increased. The tax which has not been increased since 1989 is not raising sufficient revenue to improve and maintain our highway system. Improved fuel efficiency standards and the rise of hybrid vehicles are hurting the collection of gas taxes. Also our interstate highway system and bridges are old now and major repairs are needed. There are bottlenecks and places that need new interchanges. I am persuaded that there is insufficient revenue to expand and maintain the interstate system the way we have in the past if the tax is not raised.
That said however, in the past when money was flowing into the system we should not have spend it just because we had it. The biggest folly in my mind is that we had a state policy that every county seat would connect by a four lane road to an interstate. I am not sure when this policy was instituted, sometime in the 70's I think. I am not sure if it was ever completed for all 95 counties but if not, it was to most of them. I know the generalities but not the specifics. If some one can research the facts please post the information.
The logic behind this policy was that to bolster employment opportunities in rural areas we needed four-lane roads. Counties would build industrial parks and entice companies to locate across the state. If there was not easy access to the interstate system, companies would not locate in rural areas.
When my daughter was a minor I would go pick her up from her mother's in McKenzie, Tennessee getting off of I-40 at Parker's Cross Roads. McKenzie was about thirty or so miles from the interstate. From the interstate to Huntington, the county seat of Carrol County, was about 20 miles and was a four-lane road. Sometimes I would not see a dozen cars from exiting the interstate to Huntington. Also, the little town of Huntington had a four-lane ring road by-pass, which was silly because it added miles to the trip and there was nothing to by-pass since it was much quicker to go through town. The few times I did take the bypass, I would go miles and miles and not see another car.
I also for many years had a grandmother living in Sparta, Tennessee which is the county seat of White County and I would go visit her in Sparta and would go though Sparta to a family reunions "on the mountain." When I would go to Sparta, the four lane road from the interstate to Sparta would almost always be empty.
This plan to four-lane the state of Tennessee apparently did not achieve its objective. As of the 2010 census, the population of Carroll County was 28,522; in 1980 it was 28,285. In 2010 the population of White County was 25,834; and in 1980 it was 19567, not much growth. Looking at rural counties across the state, some had modest growth, some almost no growth and some continued to have declining population growth. In addition to the cost, I think it is detrimental to the environment to encourage this kind of sprawl, and I prefer to keep the rural, rural. Building four-lane roads to each county seat gobbled up mass swaths of farm land and detracted from the natural beauty of rural Tennessee.
Rather than try to make each rural county a site for industrial development, I think it would have been wiser to pick six to eight mid-sized towns such as Jackson and Cookeville and focus development in those areas. Anyway, we have now spend that money and there is no getting it back.
The lesson form this is that if an entity of government has money to spend, they spend it even if they spend it foolishly. The only way government spends wisely is when money is scarce and then not all of the time. It is a policy quandary; do you give an entity more money and see a lot of it foolishly wasted or not give sufficient money and see essential services surfer? I think it is hard to strike the right balance. I fear that if TDOT has more money, then the State may decide that every county seat needs a luxury jet port.