Guest on The Infra Blog: John Schroer, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Transportation

Posted by Steve Anderson on Thursday, February 8th, 2018

John Schroer on The Infra BlogJohn Schroer was appointed Commissioner of Transportation by Governor Bill Haslam in January 2011. He is the 29th commissioner of the state agency that oversees a statewide transportation system including highways, rail, airports, waterways and transit.

Under Commissioner Schroer, TDOT has remained debt-free and has saved taxpayers more than $610 million dollars by reexamining and reducing the scope of projects from wants to needs. In 2017, Commissioner Schroer worked with Governor Bill Haslam to develop and pass the IMPROVE Act to provide increased funding for transportation for the first time in 30 years. The legislation will fund 962 road and bridge projects across all 95 counties and will provide an additional $105 million annually for cities and counties to support local infrastructure needs.

On the national level, Commissioner Schroer serves as the 2017/2018 President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), an organization composed of peers from all DOTs across the nation.

Keeping the Highway Trust Fund from Going Under
The issue that we’re very concerned with nationally…is making sure that our mainstay of funding transportation projects, the Trust Fund, is solvent, and it’s just not right now. We’re very concerned that that may possibly fall by the wayside with this new infrastructure plan, which would be more project based, and puts more emphasis on funding through other sources other than the federal government and will make it difficult for rural states like Tennessee in most states in this country to keep up with the current demand that we have on maintaining our infrastructure.

 

The Necessity of Tax Increases
Our senator, Bob Corker, two years ago proposed a gas tax increase that would make the trust fund solvent. It was absolutely dead not on arrival, it was dead before arrival. That’s been dropped and no one’s talked about it since. Nothing has been done with the trust fund since 1993, other than they’ve taken money away from it…39 states across the country, in the last several years, have faced this same issue and have done something with it. Tennessee being one of them, where we’ve looked at our needs and our funding capabilities and said we’re going to have to step up and raise additional dollars on the state side in order to keep up with our infrastructure and our transportation needs.

 

Millennials and Highways: a Generational Disconnect
The younger generations, Millennials, they grew up with a great infrastructure network. We started it in the ’60s and by the time they were driving we had great interstates and good roads and most of them don’t even probably know how that’s paid for…I do think there has to be a lot of education, and unfortunately, I think, where we are at this point in time in our country is that education is going to come through crumbling infrastructure and people are going to have to start up, find out: why are our bridges falling apart? Why are our roads in bad shape? We can’t deal with congestion and the things that we really need to deal with, and they’ll find out that there’s just not enough money to pay for it.

 

Convincing Citizens, and Governments, to Be Proactive
I’ve been in government now, or in public service, for 24 years. I spent 13 years on a school board. I was four years as a mayor, and now I’ve been in this job for seven years. And, unfortunately, in all those cases you have to govern basically by crisis. The people of our country don’t necessarily like us to be forward thinkers and fix things before they’re broken. Congress is the same way. We’re dealing with that right now, trying to fund the government…Unfortunately, in infrastructure world, you can’t do that because it takes too long to fix something, so we have to look at the foresight, we have to be visionaries and we have to fix things before they crumble and we’re just not doing that.

 

Download full transcript (PDF): John Schroer on The Infra Blog

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