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Tennessee Road Conditions Cost Motorists Billions


Roads and bridges that are deteriorated, congested or lack some desirable safety features cost Tennessee motorists a total of $6 billion statewide annually – as much as $2.019 per driver in some areas – due to higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays. Increased investment in transportation improvements at the local and state levels could relieve traffic congestion, improve road, bridge and transit conditions, boost safety, and support long-term economic growth in Tennessee, according to a new report released by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based national transportation organization.

The TRIP report, “Tennessee Transportation by the Numbers: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe, Smooth and Efficient Mobility,” finds that throughout Tennessee, nearly a quarter of major, locally and state-maintained urban roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 5 percent of Tennessee’s locally and state-maintained bridges are structurally deficient. The state’s major urban roads are becoming increasingly congested with travel up 9 percent between 2013 and 2016, with drivers wasting significant amounts of time and fuel each year. And traffic fatalities in Tennessee increased by 8 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Driving on deficient Tennessee roads costs the state’s drivers $6 billion per year in the form of extra vehicle operating costs (VOC) as a result of driving on roads in need of repair, lost time and fuel due to congestion-related delays, and the costs of traffic crashes in which the lack of adequate roadway safety features likely were a contributing factor. The TRIP report calculates the cost to motorists of insufficient roads in the Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville urban areas. 

The TRIP report finds that 11 percent of Tennessee’s major locally and state-maintained urban roads and highways have pavements in poor condition, while 13 percent are rated in mediocre condition. Thirteen percent of major urban roads are in fair condition and the remaining 63 percent are rated in good condition. Driving on deteriorated roads costs Tennessee drivers $1.3 billion annually in extra vehicle operating costs, including accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear.

“The very foundation of traffic safety is our roadways. Our roads and bridges must be adequate in capacity and must be maintained properly,” said Stephanie Milani, Tennessee public affairs director, AAA, The Auto Club Group. “AAA supports a well-funded transportation system with a comprehensive approach to safety, and so do the drivers on our roads. In fact, approximately two-thirds of adult drivers believe the federal government should invest more to improve roadways, according to a recent survey by AAA. The numbers from TRIP are staggering and show the urgency for a comprehensive transportation funding plan.”

Traffic congestion in the state’s major urban areas is worsening, causing as many as 45 annual hours of delay for the average motorist and costing each driver up to $1,168 annually in lost time and wasted fuel. Traffic congestion robs commuters of time and money and imposes increased costs on businesses, shippers and manufacturers, which are often passed along to the consumer.

Five percent of Tennessee’s bridges are structurally deficient, with significant deterioration to the bridge deck, supports or other major components.

Traffic crashes in Tennessee claimed the lives of 4,965 people between 2012 and 2016, an average of 993 fatalities per year. The number of fatalities increased 8 percent from 2015 to 2016, from 958 to 1,036. Tennessee’s overall traffic fatality rate of 1.25 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel is higher than the national average of 1.13. 

The efficiency and condition of Tennessee’s transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the health of the state’s economy. Annually, $619 billion in goods are shipped to and from sites in Tennessee, mostly by truck. Seventy-six percent of the goods shipped annually to and from sites in Tennessee are carried by trucks and another 14 percent are carried by courier services or multiple mode deliveries, which include trucking.

“The condition of Tennessee’s transportation system will worsen in the future without additional funding, leading to even higher costs for drivers,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director. “In order to promote economic growth, foster quality of life and get drivers safety and efficiently to their destination, Tennessee will need to make transportation funding a top priority.”