Speakers at I-69 meeting say money is needed to complete project

Thursday, May 26, 2011
Congressman Stephen Fincher (right) speaks during a meeting of the Mid-Continent Highway Coalition (I-69) at the Dyersburg/Dyer County Chamber of Commerce. The meeting was officiated by coalition vice president Bill Revell (left).

The biggest obstacle to completing the superhighway known as I-69 is money. That was the consensus among speakers at a Mid-Continent Highway Coalition (I-69) meeting last week at the Dyersburg/Dyer County Chamber of Commerce.

John Ford of Ford Construction and vice president of transportation for the Dyersburg/Dyer County Chamber of Commerce said the state is hurting when it comes to receiving federal funding for projects and especially for I-69.

His company is working on a 4-mile section of I-69 in Obion County at the cost of $32 million. Ford said Ford Construction is just one of 25 projects in the country involved in completing I-69 and one of only five in the state.

He stated the state of Tennessee did not include any I-69 jobs in the northern part of the state in their three-year road plan.

"The only I-69 funding in the three-year road plan going forward is the paving of two sections they have already built in Shelby County, and then I think it's about 2.3 miles at the very bottom section," said Ford.

Ford added the work was continuing on right-of-ways and engineering in the state.

"A lot of that has already been funded," said Ford.

According to Ford, the Tennessee Department of Transportation lets contracts for around $700 million-$800 million, which is about 2 percent of federal transportation funding. Ford said there is a proposal to cut the state's funding by 35 percent, which would be a cut of $281 million.

"I'm just saying, from our perspective there needs to be a lot of conversation with the governor and the commissioner of transportation," said Ford.

He noted the need for money to be specifically designated for I-69.

"The reality is the gas tax has not been funding the road program over the last several years," said Ford.

He said Tennessee collects the gas tax and sends the money to the federal government, where they take their share.

"For every dollar we collect for the federal government, we get about 81 or 82 percent," said Ford.

He said the last time the gas tax was raised in Tennessee was in 1989.

Congressman Stephen Fincher was at the meeting and said the country is at a financial crossroads and infrastructure needs more attention paid to it.

"We take our infrastructure for granted," said Fincher. "And until the American public one day goes out in their car and knocks the front end from under the car, because there are potholes in the road as big as this room, I'm afraid we are not going to deal with it."

He stated money could not be taken from certain areas to fund larger programs.

"We cannot rob transportation and infrastructure, the ag bill, the farm bill and other programs and pay for the downfalls in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and defense," said Fincher. "They make up 80 percent of the money we spend."

He said other countries are rapidly building their infrastructure while the United States falls behind. Fincher also noted the last tax increase on gasoline, but said now is not the time.

"I just cannot propose a gas tax in this environment," said Fincher.

Fincher stated he and his colleagues were fighting to get a highway bill out. He also added that a portion of the taxes from Tennessee gasoline should not have to go to the federal government.

"It should stay here and not ever go up there," said Fincher.

Former Rep. Phillip Pinion of Union City said more and more money was getting earmarked and that was not beneficial to Tennesseans. Fincher said Congress swore an end to earmarks, but (earmarks) were now coming from the executive branch.

"Now, President Obama is getting to pick and choose where he sends certain monies," said Fincher.

He closed by bluntly saying he feels the infrastructure is falling to pieces.

"Going to Nashville, you almost have to wear a helmet it's so dangerous," said Fincher. "If we are going to keep expanding we are going to have to build, and constantly build."

In other business:

Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority Chairman Jimmy Williamson gave a report on the Port of Cates Landing. He noted that with the recent flooding in Lake County at the port site, the proposed dock would have been one foot above the water and the proposed warehouse would have been two feet above the water.

"It's a good site and it's one of the reasons the Corps of Engineers did a study and picked this site," said Williamson.

He said the harbor is ready to use and they are in the process of building the dock using sheet pilings. Williamson added that once construction begins, the dock should be completed in 18 months. The next step for the port authority will be to find a port operator.

He noted to the crowd that over a billion dollars in industry has looked at the site over the years, but bypassed the area because there was no port.

Mid-Continent Highway Coalition Vice President Bill Revell gave an overall report on the construction of I-69.

The whole construction of I-69 is divided into 32 sections of independent utilities.

"The reason they did that is because if they can't complete the whole highway someday, whatever they do complete the money won't be thrown away," said Revell, giving a comparison of Great River Road off of I-155.

He added I-69 is very important due to the trade partners to the north and south, meaning Canada and Mexico.

"It's critical we get this highway built," said Revell.

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  • I don't think it's critical to get this built, I-55 and I-155 serve the same purpose. Anyone who really is pushing this probably owns property near where the exits will be in Dyer county and stands to make a lot of money once its completed....farm land will become prime commercial land overnight.

    -- Posted by swampfox on Thu, May 26, 2011, at 1:59 PM
  • Once again, Congressman Fincher has no solutions. He's powerless to raise the funds needed so instead blames the feds and Obama. It's getting old and tired, Stephen - you told us you'd plow Congress and all you've done since your gotten there is whine and complain.

    You forgot to mention that for every dollar someone in Massachusetts pays in taxes the State of Tennessee gets $.30 of it. We are a welfare state - we don't pay our fair share as it is and now you and your supporters have the "you know what's" to claim that other states should be paying for our roads? Wow - you really are a piece of work. How about you donate some of your tax-payer subsidies to finish I-69?

    Once again, Fincher proves his impotence and can't deliver for the 8th district.

    -- Posted by Grdn_Grrl on Fri, May 27, 2011, at 1:32 PM
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