Tennessee’s highways, bridges get high marks
The nation’s highways and bridges are back in the news. Funding for asphalt and abutments will decline as the federal government has strapped itself — kicking and screaming all the way — into a sequestration straitjacket.
It’s timely that the Reason Foundation has just released its examination of 20 years of highway data in a report titled “Are Highways Crumbling? State Performance Summaries.”
The foundation notes that the state of the nation’s transportation infrastructure has been disparaged. For example, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave a “D” grade to U.S. infrastructure that also included waste, water, aviation, levee and transit systems. The projected cost of repairs: $2.2 trillion.
Conventional wisdom holds that the nation’s highways and bridges are in a “sorry state of condition,” according to the Reason Foundation report that looked at state highway data from 1989 through 2008.
Conclusion: The higher-level facilities (interstates, freeways and U.S. and state-numbered highways) have seen dramatic improvement in performance in the last two decades, especially in rural pavement condition and highway fatality rates, but also in bridge condition and even in one measure of interstate congestion.
Tennessee fared well in the analysis that found the state has improved in all seven key areas studied — one of only 11 states to do so.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation was justifiably proud to point out the report found urban congestion and the proportion of deficient bridges in the state were significantly improved.
The study also cited 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 largest improvement in the nation.
The study’s authors cautioned against misrepresenting the nation’s “crumbling infrastructure.” Every part of the highway system is in a continual state of physical decline from the first day it’s opened to traffic. The key is to keep that infrastructure maintained and replaced as necessary.
For Tennessee taxpayers, one of the most important aspects of its road system was not explicitly referred to in the study, but pointed out by TDOT. Tennessee has one of only five state departments of transportation in the nation with no transportation debt.
That’s really where the rubber meets the road.