- A report from researchers at the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations says that the cost of the state's infrastructure needs has risen to $45 billion for the period of 2016-2021, according to the Times Free Press.
- The amount represents a $2 billion increase from last year's estimate. The commission found that transportation and utility projects will require the most funding, at nearly $25 billion, followed by school modernization and upgrade and replacement projects at more than $10 billion.
- The commission said that some of the anticipated need could be filled by the Trump administration's proposed rural infrastructure initiative.
The leaked documents, allegedly from the White House, that were published first by Axios last month in advance of the president's State of the Union speech indicated that 25% of the federal infrastructure investment would go toward the Rural Infrastructure Program. Trump's plan still needs to get through Congress, which means the end product could see significant changes.
During the last year, there have been calls to provide more funding assistance to communities outside major metros. At the very least, rural communities may need more money for mass transportation options. Despite losing population, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reported that public transit ridership in less populated areas rose nearly 8% from 2007 to 2015 at the same time as some major metro transportation systems experienced declines in demand. APTA found that rural-area residents are taking public transit to defray vehicle maintenance and gas costs, but that public transit also is providing increased mobility for veterans, senior citizens and people with disabilities.
One infrastructure financing option available to rural communities is the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, which provides low-interest loans. However, some agencies in rural areas have found it difficult to tap into the program. In July, during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, past recipients of TIFIA loans were testified about their experiences with the program and offered suggestions on how to improve it. They said the federal government needed to increase its outreach efforts to rural communities and educate them on program details and benefits.
Last month, the bipartisan congressional Problem Solvers Caucus suggested creating a liaison position between the government and rural communities to help those areas secure federal financing for projects.