Study: State highways improving
By Joel Davis | (email@example.com)
A new study shows that Tennessee’s highways have improved statewide during the past 20 years. The Reason Foundation examined 20 years of highway data and found the state has improved in all seven key areas studied, one of only 11 states to do so.
On a local level, the Blount County Highway Department is doing what it can to maintain and improve county roads in the current funding environment. Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap said that his department has been able to pave more roads since the County Commission approved some additional funding in 2012.
“That additional funding has let me just almost double my paving from the year before,” Dunlap said. “I went from roughly eight miles per year to almost 16 right now.”At that rate, it will take the Highway Department about 50 years to repave the county’s 800 miles of roads.
It would take about $2 million each year in asphalt to return the county to a 15-year cycle, Dunlap said.
When Dunlap became Blount County highway superintendent in 1994, he set a goal of replacing every one-lane bridge in the county. There are six left.
In 2009, Thompson Road, Reagan Mill and the Garland Roads bridges were replaced. In 2011, the bridge on Stables Drive in Townsend was replaced, Dunlap said.“It’s got a brand new structure on it right now.”
Another is slated to be replaced this year, Dunlap said. “I will be replacing one of those, weather permitting, in the next couple weeks, on East Millers Cove Road.”
For years, Dunlap has been championing a capital plan for improving roads. The plan calls for upgrades to Morganton Road for about $5 million, Old Niles Ferry Road for $5 million and Ellejoy Road for $7 million. “That’s what we submitted to the U.S. Congress when the commission agreed to do the match (a few years ago),” he said.
Federal funding never materialized as spending was cut, Dunlap said. “Mine was yanked out. We’re back to square one and looking at local funding. That’s all we’ve got right now.”
The Reason Foundation report, “Are Highways Crumbling? State Performance Summaries,” looked at state highway data from 1989 through 2008.
The report measures road performance in several categories: Miles of urban and rural interstate highways in poor condition, congestion on urban interstates, deficient bridges, highway fatalities, rural primary roads in poor conditions, and the number of narrow rural primary roads.
“This report is a testament to the focus TDOT has placed on maintaining our infrastructure, aggressively repairing and replacing aging bridges, increasing safety, and managing congestion,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “This is truly exceptional when you consider we are one of only five (departments of transportation) in the nation with no transportation debt.”
The report found urban congestion and the proportion of deficient bridges in Tennessee were significantly improved. The study also cites Tennessee as being particularly successful in taking care of its roads, improving road conditions on rural and urban interstates. In fact, the proportion of urban interstates in poor condition fell by 16 percentage points, the fifth biggest improvement in the nation.