Tennessee has over 90,000 miles of roadways and boasts superior roads when compared to neighboring and peer states. Tennessee consistently ranks in the top 5 states for overall roadway system quality since the poll in Overdrive magazine’s annual survey of owner-operators’ opinions began in 1996 (www.overdriveonline.com). However, due to inadequate funding levels, roads in Tennessee are beginning to exhibit some deterioration in performance.
- Increasing traffic levels around the state cause significant delays. Each year, the average driver in Tennessee’s large urban areas loses significant time to traffic congestion:
- Chattanooga: 28 hours,
- Knoxville: 35 hours,
- Memphis: 43 hours, and
- Nashville/Davidson: 45 hours.
The efficiency of Tennessee’s transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the health of the state’s economy. Annually, $433 billion in goods are shipped from sites in Tennessee and another $266 billion in goods are shipped to sites in Tennessee, mostly by truck.
More than 80% of TDOT-maintained roads are in the good to very good categories. However, locally maintained roads do not fare as well. When all roads in Tennessee are considered, 11 percent of Tennessee’s major locally (those under city, town, and county jurisdictions) and state-maintained urban roads and highways have pavements in very poor to poor condition, while 29 percent are in fair condition and the remaining 60 percent are in good to very good condition.
Three main factors are associated with fatal vehicle crashes: driver behavior, vehicle characteristics, and roadway features. It is estimated that roadway features are likely a contributing factor in approximately one-third of fatal traffic crashes. Roadway features that impact safety include the number of lanes, lane widths, lighting, lane markings, rumble strips, shoulders, guard rails, other shielding devices, median barriers and intersection design. Detailed strategies are being implemented in the areas of keeping vehicles in the proper lane, intersection safety, work zone safety, motor carrier safety, and driver behavior.
While Tennessee’s roads are in superior condition when compared to neighboring states, current funding will not keep pace with demand and deteriorating performance, with an estimated $475 million necessary each year. So, how does TDOT, whose job was given a thumbs up in the survey, continue to make improvements?
ASCE had a series of ideas, the most probable of being. a raise of the gasoline tax. The tax per gallon of gasoline in Tennessee is lower than the national average tax per gallon. Tennessee’s state gasoline tax (inclusive of excise tax and other state taxes) is currently 21.4 cents per gallon. Nationally, the average state gasoline tax is 28.1 cents per gallon. Tennessee hasn’t raised the gasoline tax since 1989.