Policy Study

Tennessee Ranks 3rd in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Tennessee’s highway system ranks 3rd in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a seven-spot improvement from the previous report, where Tennessee ranked 10th. However, some categories in the report cannot be compared to previous years due to methodological changes that also impacted some state’s overall rankings. These changes are fully explained in Part 2 and the appendix of the full report.

Tennessee ranks in the bottom 15 nationally in urban fatality rate and other fatality rate. Tennessee’s 1.45 urban fatality rate is 1.1 times higher than peer state Missouri’s rate and 1.2 times higher than peer state Kentucky’s rate. Tennessee’s other fatality rate is 1.2 times higher than Missouri’s rate but lower than Kentucky’s rate. 

In safety and performance categories, Tennessee ranks 23rd in rural fatality rate, 47th in urban fatality rate, 11th in structurally deficient bridges, 29th in traffic congestion, 10th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 12th in rural Interstate pavement condition. 

Tennessee is 9th in capital and bridge spending per mile and 11th in maintenance spending per mile.

Tennessee’s best rankings are in other disbursements per mile (1st) and capital and bridge disbursements per mile (9th).

Tennessee’s worst rankings are in urban fatality rate (47th) and other fatality rate (40th). 

Tennessee commuters spend 22.5 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 29th 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 urban fatality rate and its other fatality rate. Both rank in the bottom 10 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 would be a contender for the top overall spot. 

Additional Analysis 

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, other) per mile.

Compared to nearby states, Tennessee’s overall highway performance is worse than Virginia (ranks 1st) but better than Mississippi (ranks 18th) and Georgia (ranks 4th). 

Tennessee is doing better than comparable states such as Missouri (ranks 11th) and Kentucky (ranks 7th). 

Similar to other southern states, Tennessee’s other 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 and in the top 20 in eight categories. Like other top-10 states, Tennessee is able to maintain smooth roads and high-quality bridges at a low overall cost. 

Tennessee is one of 25 states that have urban fatality rates of 1.0 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled or higher. The other 24 states are Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wyoming, Delaware, Missouri, Alaska, Hawaii, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Nevada, South Dakota, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Illinois, and New Mexico. 

Tennessee is one of 24 states that have other fatality rates of 1.5 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled or higher. The other 23 are West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, California, South Dakota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Washington, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio.

*2021 data
The Annual Highway Report is based on spending and performance data submitted by state highway agencies to the federal government and urban congestion data from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute for 2020 as well as bridge condition data from the Better Roads inventory for 2021. For more details on the calculation of each of the 13 performance measures used in the report, as well as the overall performance measure, please refer to the appendix in the main report. The report’s dataset includes Interstate, federal, and state roads, but not county or local roads. All rankings are based on performance measures that are ratios rather than absolute values: the financial measures are disbursements per mile, the fatality rate is fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles of travel, the urban congestion measure is the annual delay per auto commuter, and the others are percentages. For example, the state ranking 1st in structurally deficient bridges has the smallest percentage of structurally deficient bridges, not the smallest number of structurally deficient bridges.