Transportation Reform in Tennessee
Rapid growth is transforming Tennessee’s communities, rural landscapes, natural areas, and environment. Transportation policies and projects both shape and respond to growth, creating threats to these resources as well as opportunities for smarter growth.
For years, the Tennessee Department of Transportation's aggressive highway building harmed our environment, health, and communities. During the Bredesen Administration, SELC helped achieve a number of significant policy reforms, including placing a greater emphasis on transportation solutions that reduce environmental impacts and respect our communities. The Haslam Administration has made some further positive changes, such as the new Multimodal Access Grant Program and re-constitution of TDOT’s Environmental Advisory Council, on which SELC serves. We still have a long way to go, however, to make TDOT’s policies and projects more sustainable.
The Need for a New Approach
In 2017, Governor Haslam’s IMPROVE Act increased Tennessee’s gas tax to fund more than 900 identified road projects, but the simple fact is we can’t just pave our way out of congestion, and there will never be enough money to meet the endless demand for more roads. In addition, the over-emphasis on new and expanded roads has often slighted or ignored more effective and less destructive solutions to our transportation needs, such as increasing the efficiency of existing roads and expanding transit and rail. The bottom line, as Commissioner John Schroer has noted, is that TDOT “must enable and encourage more flexible, innovative and lower-cost solutions to the state’s transportation needs.” TDOT also has recognized the need to move away from an asphalt-centered approach to transportation and to provide a greater range of transportation choices, including freight and passenger rail, transit, bicycling, and walking.
To continue to move forward, SELC advocates that TDOT:
• Increase funding of transportation alternatives, particularly transit and freight rail;
• Scrap or redesign a number of destructive highway proposals, such as Corridor K between Chattanooga and Asheville;
• Analyze and reduce the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions projects will cause;
• Broaden public participation in transportation planning; and
• Adopt policies that better link transportation and land use and promote smarter growth.
Regional and Local Steps
In addition to state transportation reform, SELC advocates for more sustainable transportation plans and policies for Tennessee’s metro regions and localities, including endorsing specific transportation projects that support regional connectivity and healthy, vibrant communities.