Gas tax will allow East Tennessee communities to fix rural roads

(AP)

(WATE) — With the Improve Act in full effect, many East Tennessee communities are deciding what to do with the additional funding.

The law means an increase in the gas tax, but also more funding for road departments. The gas tax will rise to 25 cents per gallon in 2018 and one cent more in 2019.

County road departments are in agreement about using the money to fix roads, especially rural roads. This fiscal year, Cumberland County will receive $490,000, Blount County will receive $570,000 and Scott County will receive $400,000.

Cumberland County Road Superintendent Scott Blaylock says the money from the gas task will increase the county’s budget by 22 percent. He says the additional funds will be a blessing to the department.

It can be easy for the county to feel overwhelmed with road repairs, due to having only 14 full-time crew members.

“With the number of employees that we have that’s actually out on the roads…you’re looking at one worker having to maintain about 50 square miles.”

Blount County Road Superintendent Jeff Headrick says the area has many rural roads that need to be updated.

“It takes money and if you don’t have it, you can’t do it. That’s the way it is.”

The county crews have focused on a goal of improving 12-13 miles of roadway in a paving season annually. It is a far cry from where they need to be.

“To get ahead in Blount County, given 830 miles of road, we need to be averaging 50 to 55 miles a paving cycle,” said Headrick.

The county purchased an 8-foot paver when the act was approved. The paver is smaller than most, but it will allow the county to stay ahead when repaving backroads.

Also, the county recently bought 10 new state-of-the-art trucks and four trailers.

“Over time, I think we can address all the needs,” said Headrick. “It’s just going to take time.”

Scott County Assitant Roads Superintendent Kelvin King says it will be a while before funding is used.

“The money won’t be here until October and then it will be too cold to do a whole lot, so we’ll save the money until the spring,” said King.

When that time comes, the county will tackle some of the rural roads like other communities.

Resident Leland Regan says some of the roads need extensive work.

“They’re terrible, to say the least. I mean, some of the roads in this county, you can’t even get over them unless you have a Jeep or horse,” said Regan.

King says the county will be addressing turning roads from gravel to pavement.

“I’d say we have probably still got about 200 miles of graveled road,” said King.

King says the additional funding will help the department with the increasing costs of things such as oil.

“We were lucky if we got to do 10 miles of blacktop in a year and then in some years we didn’t even get to do that,” said King.

Regan believes Gov. Haslam is going in the right direction with the act.

“It takes money and if you don’t have it, you can’t do it. That’s the way it is,” said Reagan.

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