Improve Act will add $700,000 for local road maintenance

The administration of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says the Improve Tennessee Act will fund a variety of state Department of Transportation roads and bridges projects, including several in Scott County.

HUNTSVILLE — The state gas tax increase championed by Gov. Bill Haslam will add just over $700,000 to the Scott County Road Department’s budget for local road repairs.

That is according to documents presented locally on Monday by State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, and State Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown.

Yager and Keisling appeared jointly before Scott County Commission to highlight recent legislative accomplishments, and just happened to be on hand when a discussion was launched by a private citizen about the state of Smokey Creek Road in eastern Scott County.

Mary Stephens, a resident of the Smokey Creek neighborhood south of Norma, took the podium at Monday’s Commission meeting to implore commissioners to fix the road, which she said is in “terrible shape.”

Stephens said her elderly father makes repairs on the road himself, filling the potholes.

“I speak for a lot of people. We want our road fixed,” Stephens said.

First District Commissioner Blue Day agreed with Stephens, saying the road needs to be repaired. Stephens said the road is in poorer shape than the roads through the nearby North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.

County Commission routinely fields road complaints from residents. However, commissioners do not have authority over the road department, and Scott County does not contribute funds towards maintaining its roads. Instead, the road department is funded only by its share of the state’s gasoline tax.

That is the direction the discussion shifted at Monday’s meeting, with 2nd District Commissioner Sam Lyles asking Yager how much of the gas tax increase will be seen on the local level.

The answer? $534,000 in new revenue from the increased tax on gasoline, and $192,000 in new revenue from the increased tax on diesel fuel. The $726,000 in new revenue is a significant increase for the Scott County Road Department, which currently has a budget of about $2 million.

While the new money will provide more funds for the local road department to keep up with the backlog of street maintenance, 4th District Commissioner Rick Russ said that much of the problem on Smokey Creek Road is created by heavy traffic in the form of log trucks.

“It’s a constant battle to keep it up,” Russ said.

Russ inquired about whether there was a severance tax for the logging industry, similar to the tax imposed for mineral extraction, such as natural gas, oil and coal. John Beaty, the county’s attorney, said there is no such severance tax.

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