Tenn. infrastructure group launches coalition to educate public on state transportation needs

Tennessee highway
Tennessee highway | aaroads.com

The Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance will hit the roads in the coming months to bring its message about the state's critical transportation funding needs to state residents.  

Susie Alcorn, executive director of alliance since its inception 10 years ago, said the alliance will visit all of the state’s 95 counties over the course of the next 90 to 220 days, capping off its efforts with an infrastructure conference slated for October.

“We want to talk to folks about the state’s unfunded (transportation) needs,” Alcorn said. “We’re in a crisis and we want to educate the public on the crisis, how it came about, what can be done to increase transportation funding and to encourage our legislators to do something about it.”

The coalition of community members and business leaders includes representatives from the Auto Club Group/AAA Tennessee, Tennessee Public Transportation Association, Tennessee Trucking Association, Tennessee County Highway Officials Association, Tennessee Municipal League, American Council of Engineering Companies of Tennessee and the Tennessee Road Builders Association.

The state of Tennessee’s infrastructure is a mixed bag. The state chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state’s roads and bridges a B- grade; its public transportation system was given a D.

“Forty-three percent of our highways are congested,” Alcorn said. “We’ve been ranked twelfth worst in the nation in traffic fatalities, and 75 percent of our fatalities occur on two-lane roads.”

Transportation experts estimate it would take an additional $800 million annually to begin to address some of the backlog of badly needed road projects across the state.

In order to create additional transportation funding, Alcorn said the alliance supports an increase in the state’s gas tax that has not been increased in 25 years, raising registration fees and switching existing lanes to lanes that drivers would pay a fee to use.

The alliance has identified 381 unfunded projects with a projected price tag of $8 billion. The wish list includes an I-69 expansion at a projected cost of $1 billion; an Elcoa Highway Project in the Knoxville area, that runs from Black County to Knox County for $270 million and in the city of Franklin, south of Nashville, a Mack Hatcher Parkway project at a projected cost of $30 million.

Alcorn said compared to its neighboring states, Tennessee's transportation system is in good shape but she fear's the state is focusing on merely maintaining its road infrastructure as opposed to taking full advantage of a strong road system that creates jobs and stimulates economic development.

“Compared to our neighbors we tend to have smoother and better roads,” Alcorn said. “We need funding reform so we can continue our legacy of good roads in Tennessee. We believe good roads will give us a competitive edge.”