Using money from gas tax for bike lanes is illegal, Tennessee legislator says

Using money from gas tax for bike lanes is illegal, Tennessee legislator says

Since 2013 the Tennessee Department of Transportation has collected millions from the gas tax and spent it on bike lanes and other irrelevant items.

That’s illegal, says one state lawmaker.

A bill from Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, would prohibit TDOT from spending the money on anything but highways and bridges. Carter’s bill says TDOT could no longer use it for “pedestrian, bicycle, and other non-vehicular facilities” through its Multi-Modal Access Fund.

Mike Carter (photo courtesy Tennessee General Assembly's official website)

Mike Carter (photo courtesy Tennessee General Assembly’s official website)

TDOT started the fund in 2013 to pay for biking, walking and expanding certain transit lanes.

“Until three years not a nickel of this went to bikes,” Carter said. “I’ve got a lot of people upset with me over this, but one thing no one has so far picked up on is the law says this money may not be used predominantly for recreational purposes.

“I don’t know if anyone stops to ask riders whether they’re on recreational business or if they’re headed to work. If they’re being used primarily for recreational purposes, then that is illegal.”

Carter sent Tennessee Watchdog a copy of the law and highlighted items that, he says, prove his point.

“If these bike lanes are so critically important to cities, then I’m good with that,” Carter said.

“But if it’s so important then let the cities pay for it, and don’t take that money from the gas tax.”

TDOT officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Marshall Stair (photo courtesy City of Knoxville's official website)

Marshall Stair (photo courtesy City of Knoxville’s official website)

Knoxville has so far spent $1 million in city money on bike projects, and it’s spending an additional $1 million in TDOT money on new sidewalks, a wider bike lane and a bus shelter, said Eric Vreeland, spokesman for Mayor Madeline Rogero.

Knoxville City Council member Marshall Stair disagrees with Carter.

“The whole premise that every dollar of gas tax has to be used for automobile transportation is flawed to begin with. That’s such a myopic way to look at it,” Stair said.

“For instance, if you don’t have children then you still have to pay taxes that go to education.”

Bike lanes, meanwhile, help keep people healthy and reduce traffic congestion, Stair said.

Stair didn’t have information showing how many people use the city’s bike lanes, but usage has doubled in many places since 2005, according to data from the city’s Metro Planning Commission.

As part of the Multi-Modal Access Fund, TDOT doesn’t pay for projects that exceed $1 million.
Exactly 12.8 cents from Tennessee’s 21.4 cent gas tax goes to TDOT. The rest goes to cities and counties and the state’s general fund, according to the TDOT’s website.

The agency spent $10.2 million on the fund last year, according to a TDOT news release. Specific information on how much TDOT has spent as of February was unavailable Friday.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org 

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