Link to this report
Contact: L. Mark McAdoo
OFFICIALS REPORT INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS
IN EXCESS OF $18 BILLION
Transportation and Schools Account for More Than 50% of the Total
NASHVILLE, TN, April 17 – According to the second report on public infrastructure needs by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), Tennessee needs at least $18.2 billion worth of infrastructure for the five-year period ending in June 2004. The information in the report is based on surveys of local officials, including county executives, mayors, utility district managers and school superintendents.
The TACIR report comes on the heels of report released last month by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) that gives the nation’s infrastructure a “D+”. The ASCE report does not grade individual states, but its list of top three infrastructure concerns for Tennessee coincides with the top three needs reported by local officials in the state: water infrastructure, roads and bridges, and schools. Combined, these three types of infrastructure represent almost three-fourths of the total need for new or improved infrastructure reported in TACIR’s survey.
TACIR asked local officials across the state to report the needs of their constituents in terms of the type of infrastructure and the total cost for projects needed in some stage of development between July 1999 and June 2004. They identified the top three areas of need as transportation ($7.4 billion), public schools ($3.7 billion) and water and wastewater ($2.8 billion). Based on analysis by TACIR staff, nearly 44 percent of the $3.7 billion needed for schools appears to be the result of the Education Improvement Act (EIA) adopted in 1992 by the Tennessee General Assembly. That Act requires that classes in public schools be reduced on average by 4½ students per teacher by Fall 2001.
TACIR’s report, the only one of its kind in the nation, includes information about the condition of existing public school buildings. According to local officials, 69% of Tennessee’s schools are in good or excellent condition overall; however, they estimate the cost of bringing all school facilities components up to good condition to exceed one billion dollars. They also reported a need for $1.8 billion in new school construction to house the additional teachers required for enrollment growth and to meet the new smaller-class mandate in the EIA.
For the first time, TACIR staff developed comparisons to population and growth. These comparisons suggest that sheers numbers of new residents come closer to explaining relatively higher costs across counties than do growth rates or population density. The counties with both the highest and the lowest costs per capita are smaller and more rural, which is explained by the large state transportation projects that occur periodically, but infrequently, in those areas.
The TACIR report, which is required by Public Chapter 817, Acts of 1996, is unique in that it is based on a continuing survey of all local officials about a comprehensive array of public infrastructure types, ranging from roads, bridges and utilities to industrial sites, schools, other public buildings and recreation facilities. No other state has taken on such a monumental task.
The original legislation was backed by the development districts and the Rebuild Tennessee Coalition. Maynard Pate, Executive Director of the Greater Nashville Regional Council (the development district for upper Middle Tennessee), said at the time of its passage that the infrastructure inventory was important to developing cooperative strategies between governments to more effectively and efficiently deal with infrastructure needs. Sen. Robert Rochelle, TACIR chairman and co-sponsor of the legislation, stated that the inventory would provide decision makers with reliable policy information.
The public infrastructure needs inventory on which TACIR’s report is based is the result of efforts by staff of Tennessee’s nine development districts to survey local officials to determine the needs of their constituents. Major efforts have been made over the last year to improve the quality and coverage of the inventory, which can be seen in a comparison of the current report to TACIR’s 1999 report.
The current report notes that needs increased $4.5 billion or 33 percent over the two-year period since the last report was published. TACIR staff attribute the increase in part to better reporting by local school officials resulting from a concerted effort on the part of TACIR, the State Board and Department of Education, the Tennessee School Board Association and the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.
The full report can be found on TACIR’s web site at http://www.state.tn.us/tacir/PDF_FILES/Other_Issues/2001Infra.pdf.
TACIR’s mission is to serve as a forum for the discussion and resolution of intergovernmental problems; provide high quality research support to state and local government officials in order to improve the overall quality of government in Tennessee; and to improve the effectiveness of the intergovernmental system to better serve the citizens of Tennessee.