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updated 5/26/2004 3:42:14 PM ET 2004-05-26T19:42:14

For the first time, Tennessee is developing a long-range transportation plan that goes beyond roads to include waterways, bicycles and walking paths.

State Transportation Commissioner Jerry Nicely said Wednesday that public input would be the key part of developing the first plan over the next year.

"We want input on how we should set priorities," Nicely said. "As one example, public transit use in the United States has risen 21 percent in the last five years. We want to know if Tennesseans want access to public transportation."

Nicely spoke at a Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority office, one of a series of news conferences he held Tuesday and Wednesday to promote the planning effort.

He said a 48-member statewide steering committee would meet for the first time Thursday in Nashville, regional groups would be organized in the next few months and numerous public hearings would be held.

"We are also reviewing and updating the statewide plans that already exist for transit, rail, aviation and highways," he said.

Nicely said the plan _ a 25-year vision for transportation, a 10-year investment strategy and a one- to three-year priority list of projects _ would be coordinated with bordering states. For example, he said Tennessee needs to prepare for Georgia's announced plans to widen Interstate 75 between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

He said Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin have developed such long-range transportation plans.

Nicely declined to put a price tag on a plan for Tennessee, saying "we'd like to have our dollars fit in with" whatever is developed.

"We don't want to let the dollars drive the plan," he said.

Nicely said he was not pushing any tax increase but he predicted the state might eventually need to increase revenues to use as the matching funds needed to secure an increasing pool of federal highway dollars.

The state funds the Transportation Department with fuel taxes.

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On The Net:

Tennessee Department of Transportation: http://www.tdot.state.tn.us

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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