NASHVILLE -- Legislation that would return millions of dollars to taxpayers in the form of bridge infrastructure improvements was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday. The County Bridge Relief Act of 2014, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), changes the way Tennessee currently manages its State Aid Bridge Grant Program to make it easier for communities to access state funds to upgrade, repair, and rehabilitate bridges that have fallen into disrepair over the years.
“This legislation unlocks local money that has been sitting unused for a number of years to help aid communities with important bridge infrastructure projects,” said Senator Yager, who is Chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee. “This will be a tremendous help, especially to our poorest counties, which have a very difficult time meeting the current match required to access these funds.”
Currently, in order to receive funding through the Bridge Grant Program, a 20% local match must be made by local governments. However, because many localities cannot afford the match, a large percentage of the bridge funding set aside by the state has gone unused. Senate Bill 1679 reduces this local match percentage to only 2%. In addition, it allows local governments to match the rate by using in-kind services as approved by the Commissioner of Transportation.
“This gives road departments the opportunity to invest sweat equity to satisfy the program’s requirements,” added Yager. “By doing so, it unlocks local money that has been sitting in unexpended county balance funds for a number of years that is needed to make repairs and upgrades to our state’s bridges.”
The bridge grant funds are distributed by county. The 2013-2014 statewide total of unexpended balance funds for all Tennessee counties, pending local matches, is $9.54 million. Yager said the state’s portion of unexpended balances in the 12th Senatorial District includes $103,388 in Campbell County, $50,211 in Fentress County, $50,211 in Morgan County, $50,211 in Pickett County, $50,211 in Rhea County, $74,476 in Roane County and $109,068 in Scott County.
“I am very pleased we found a viable solution that will move us forward in improving our bridges,” added Yager. The bill now moves to the Senate floor where it could be heard on final consideration as early as next week. It is set for final action in the House of Representatives on Thursday.