Policy Study

Tennessee Ranks 10th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Tennessee’s highway system ranks 10th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a three-spot decrease from the previous report, where Tennessee ranked 7th.

Tennessee ranks in the bottom 15 nationally in two of the three fatality rankings. Tennessee’s 1.37 overall fatality rate is 20% higher than peer state Missouri’s rate, but slightly lower than peer state Kentucky’s rate. Tennessee’s 1.10 urban fatality rate is 10% higher than both Missouri’s and Kentucky’s rates.

In safety and performance categories, Tennessee ranks 40th in overall fatality rate, 11th in structurally deficient bridges, 19th in traffic congestion, 9th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 16th in rural Interstate pavement condition.

Tennessee spends $48,943 per mile of state-controlled road. Tennessee is 16th in total spending per mile and 18th in capital and bridge costs per mile.

Tennessee’s best rankings are in urban arterial pavement condition (8th) and urban Interstate pavement condition (9th).

Tennessee’s worst rankings are in urban fatality rate (46th) and overall fatality rate (40th). Tennessee commuters spend 6.76 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 19th nationally.

Tennessee’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 17th largest highway system in the country.

“To improve in the rankings, Tennessee needs to reduce its overall fatality rate and its urban fatality rate. Both rank in the bottom 15 of all states and are higher than Tennessee’s peer states,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Tennessee ranks in the top 30 in all 11 of the remaining categories. If the state was able to reduce its fatality rates even somewhat, it might rank in the top five of all states.”

Additional Analysis

Compared to nearby states, Tennessee’s overall highway performance is worse than Virginia (ranks 2nd) but better than Georgia (ranks 14th) and Mississippi (ranks 15th).

Tennessee is doing worse than comparable states like Missouri (ranks 3rd) and Kentucky (ranks 4th).

Similar to other southern states Tennessee’s overall and urban fatality rates are above the national average. Unfortunately, Tennessee’s rates also exceed those of its peer states.

However, Tennessee ranks in the top 30 in all 11 other categories. In fact the state ranks in the top 20 in nine categories. Like other top-10 states Tennessee is able to maintain smooth roads and high-quality bridges at a low overall cost. If Tennessee was able to reduce its overall and urban fatality rates, the state might move into the top five.

Tennessee is one of 11 states that reported an urban fatality rate of 1.0 or higher per 100 million vehicle-miles. New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, Alaska, Hawaii, Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas are the others.
Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report measures the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-controlled highways in 13 categories, including pavement condition, traffic congestion, structurally deficient bridges, traffic fatalities, and spending (capital, maintenance, administrative, total) per mile.