Pinion: I-69 work may begin in summer or fall
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Construction of an 18-mile segment of Interstate 69 in Obion County could begin as early as next summer, according to state Rep. Phillip Pinion of Union City.
“Right now, it’s in the appraisal and purchasing phase in the part around Union City. It’s my hope that by summer or fall, we’ll see road graders out there actually moving dirt,” said Pinion, who chairs the House Transportation Committee.
His comments about I-69 came during a Wednesday interview in which he looked back at the 2007 legislative session and ahead to the 2008 session that convenes in mid-January.
The 18-mile segment — from Mayberry Road in the South Fulton area to Troy — will consist of “five different projects in five different phases.” Once completed, it will open the new interstate from Evansville, Ind., to Dyersburg.
“It will come in on the west side of Union City, back down to Highway 51 where it will cross over and then go down the east side of Highway 51 to Troy,” he said. “That route was chosen because there were less houses to take (by eminent domain) and no cemeteries. It’ll come into Troy where it’s already limited access.
“There will be five exits to Union City off I-69. It will cross over Highway 51 near Walker Tanner Road. That’s where the overpass will be.”
And for those non-believers who say you’ll never see I-69 in your lifetime, Pinion has these words:
“Call on some property owners and see if they’ve already been contacted and their land’s being appraised. Many have already begun plans to relocate.”
Pinion said the last permit needed for construction to begin on a new bridge and spillway complex at Reelfoot Lake has been approved.
“We are ready to go to contract, ready to go out and solicit bids, ready to go down there and build it,” Pinion said. “It’s my hope we’ll see something by spring. Congressman (John) Tanner and Sen. (Roy) Herron and I have been fighting for this thing five or six years, trying to get it done. We’ve still got the Kentucky influence against us (U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and others), but their influence is largely with the U.S. Corps of Engineers.”
Pinion said the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency was told it did not need to have a water quality permit to build a levee on the 845-acre Black Swamp area near Hop-In Refuge as a winter refuge for migrating waterfowl.
“Who told them? One of their own people. But once they got it built, TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation) said, ‘Oh, yes, you do need it!’ They are going through the permitting process. And if TDEC does not issue the permit, but says, ‘What you did was wrong,’ TWRA will go in and take the levee down.”
Pinion said the situation between the two state agencies is analogous to the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing.
“It’s upset the governor,” he said. “He said, ‘Get this straightened out. We don’t need two agencies of state government fighting each other.’”
Pinion said the Transportation Department has had experience in that quarter. When Bredesen took office, TDEC and the TDOT were constantly fighting. “TDEC environmentalists would say we built a road through a wetland or something. There were constant lawsuits,” he said. “Bredesen said he wanted it stopped. Commissioner (Gerald) Nicely hired someone who is very familiar with environmental issues. That’s Mr. Ed Cole, the assistant commissioner. He works the environmental side and we haven’t been sued since then.
“TWRA needs to do something. Nobody wants to damage water quality. And by the same token, we want to make those wetlands more accessible to waterfowl so that people can go and hunt. There are a lot of duck hunters. We want to do what we can to bring in ducks so they can hunt.”
Pinion said the Democratic Caucus has proposed legislation that would give veterans — those who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan — $1,000 a semester in tuition assistance. That’s in addition to any other financial assistance they may be entitled to receive. “Because tuition costs have gone up so much, what they’re getting is not enough,” he said.
Also in the works is a separate bill that would make it easier for veterans to get into state-owned nursing homes.
The state’s sales tax holiday — actually, a sales tax weekend in which no sales tax is charged on school clothes and school supplies — is usually held in August just before school starts. The program will be expanded in 2008 with a sales tax holiday on Easter weekend March 22-23.
Pinion said the year 2007 was “a good legislative session.” Revenues from sales taxes, franchise taxes and excise taxes were good, “so we were able to do some things.”
“Beginning Jan. 1, the sales tax on food goes down by a half cent,” he said. “Right now, the sales tax on food is 8.75, not 9.75 percent. This (bill) brings it down to 5.5 percent (state) and after local (tax) is added, to 8.25 percent.”
The state’s savings account — known as the Rainy Day fund — now has a respectable balance of about $750 million, Pinion said. “That’s a long way from just a few years ago when it was just a little over $100 million,” he said. “They are telling us our (revenue) money this year is not going to come in as well as it did last year because of the housing slump and other stuff going on. So we’ve got that (Rainy Day fund) to fall back on, to help balance the budget this coming year.”
In other areas of financial movement, he said, the legislature put more money into K-12 and pre-K programs “and into our colleges.”
“We’ve raised the lottery scholarships, too, from $3,500 to $4,000. The biggest thing our college students face is tuition rate increases,” he said.
“So when I look back on those things, as far as statewide, it’s a good feeling. We did some good things for the state.”
Not ready to retire
In January 2008 when the Tennessee House convenes, Pinion will begin his 20th year of service as state representative of House District 77, which is comprised of Obion and Lake counties and a portion of Dyer County.
In his time he’s served on the Education, Environment and Conservation Committee, Commerce Committee and Corrections Oversight Committee. He was chairman of Corrections Oversight four years. He gave up the position but retained membership on Corrections Oversight when he became chairman of the Transportation Committee. Also, he is a member of the Finance Committee and the Business Tax Committee and chairman of the Rural West Tennessee Democratic Caucus.
“I’ll start my 20th year in January, and I’m not even ready to think about retirement,” he said. “With the projects we’ve got going — Cates Landing, I-69, the spillway — I would like to stay a little longer. I enjoy very much what I do. It’s a constant thing day in and day out, listening to people’s problems, trying to help them. I enjoy it. I love helping people; I love to try to make a difference in this area.
“Every two years I ask the people of this district to rehire me. That’s the way I look at it. I tell my staff in the Nashville office, ‘I work for the 59,625 people in our legislative district and so do you. When they call here, I want you to treat ’em like they’re the boss, and they are.’
“The people of this district have given me the privilege of serving them almost 20 years. I hope I’ve done a good job. I hope my grandchildren can look back and feel good that their granddaddy served in the legislature and made a difference in the lives of Tennesseans.”
Pinion has a three-year-old grandson, A.J., son of Chad and Tammy Pinion.
Pinion said he is delighted to report that grandson No. 2 is expected to arrive in June 2008.
Published in The Messenger 12.27.07