Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed his hallmark $3.3 billion Transportation Modernization Act into law earlier this week, clearing the way for the state’s first public-private-partnerships meant to help cover the mounting costs of developing the state’s roadways.

Tennessee is one of only five states that require road work be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis and the latest to leverage P3 arrangements in a race to meet runaway infrastructure costs.

The state faces $61.9 billion in necessary infrastructure work through 2025 and its sole source of funding for roadwork prior to the bill’s signing, its gas tax which nets around $1.2 billion a year, wouldn’t be able to cover future costs, according to a report.

“As families and businesses move to Tennessee in record numbers, we need a transportation plan to keep up with the pace,” Lee said in a press release. ”Our strategy will meet our state’s transportation needs across rural and urban communities, without new taxes or debt.”

The law attempts to bridge that funding gulf by allowing private contractors to lease and redevelop existing roadways to include tolled “choice lanes” that offer drivers quicker commutes for a price; mirroring similar efforts in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia. The state’s P3 partners would front the costs for redeveloping and maintaining the roadway over the course of their lease.

Population growth and industrial development over the last decade have put local roads under strain and P3s provide a “fairly conservative way” to road modernization, said Sen. Becky Massey, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill.

Supplementing gas tax revenue with private dollars to fund major work frees up funds to address other infrastructure needs, Massey said, adding the state would match investments by P3 partners in choice lanes by directing “the same amount of money” toward rural and suburban road expansion.

A five-person state Department of Transportation committee over the next year will consider applications from potential P3 partners. The law allows for five major and 15 minor projects annually, with any projects approved by the committee subject to final approval by state lawmakers.

Project proposals situated around Tennessee’s four metropolitan areas — Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville — are likely to be the first considered, Massey said.

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