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Funding Better Bridges

Highway bridges are typically financed by a mix of federal, state, and local funding, depending upon the specific nature of the project and the ownership of the bridge.

In 2009, TDOT launched the Better Bridges Program, the largest bridge replacement and rehabilitation program of its kind in state history. The four-year program was approved by the Tennessee General Assembly and allowed the state to utilize bonds to pay for the repair, replacement, or rehabilitation of more than 200 structurally deficient bridges statewide.

In 2013, TDOT replaced, repaired, or rehabilitated 193 of the 200 state-owned structurally deficient bridges, bringing the number of structurally deficient* state bridges to just 3.3 percent.

In July 2012, the enactment of a Federal law, known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), marked the end of highway bridge programs for Tennessee and other states. Under MAP-21, bridges must compete with other transportation funding needs, and states are required to meet maintenance standards set under a new system of performance measures.

The funding challenge created by MAP-21 was partially alleviated in December 2015 by a new highway bill known as Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). The FAST Act provided approximately $305 billion over five years for highway spending nationwide but relied upon various funding sources.

In an effort to continue to provide the best bridges in the nation and support improvements to the state’s highway infrastructure, Tennessee has supplemented federal bridge funds with state funds.

In April 2017, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the IMPROVE Act, Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy. The bill, which raised the state fuel tax, is a user-based approach that provides critical funding for the state’s transportation network, including bridges. For FY 2017-18, IMPROVE Act funding allowed TDOT to allocate approximately $41 million for repairs to bridges on the state highway system, with an additional $9.5 million allocated for the State Aid Bridge Grant Program to assist local bridge owners with replacement and rehabilitation projects.

*As of January 2017, classification for the National Bridge Inventory rating system has changed, including references to “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” bridges, in accordance with the Federal Highway Administration’s Pavement and Bridge Condition Performance Measures final rule.