NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Multiple studies from state and city departments warn that unless changes are made to Tennessee infrastructure, congestion and traffic could increase significantly in the next couple of decades.
“Traffic is going to continue to grow, and if we do nothing, we are going to be in a deeper and deeper problem,” said Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Butch Eley at a budget meeting with Governor Lee.
In 2022, Tennessee’s population grew by 83,000 people, according to population estimates from the U.S. Census, which is the largest single-year increase since 2007.
With growth expected to continue, TDOT says commute times could increase by 60% in the next 20 years if nothing is done to improve roads and congestion.
Tennessee House Majority Leader Rep. William Lamberth says this upcoming legislative session they’ll take action.
“It is ridiculous the amount of traffic Tennesseans have to go through to get to work to get to play to get to their kid’s soccer game,” he said. “This year we are going to focus on doing everything we can to eradicate traffic in Tennessee.”
In Nashville alone, NDOT says it could take commuters 38% longer to travel down Gallatin Pike during rush hour in 2040. One step NDOT is taking to ease that future burden is applying for a grant to improve traffic signal technology.
“Basically optimizing and managing our signal system to ensure all modes (pedestrians, bikes, cars, transit) are moving efficiently along the corridor by minimizing delay and adapting to real-time travel conditions,” an NDOT spokesperson explained.
NDOT also said they will work to increase the use of transportation options other than cars like buses.
“We expect to hear if we’ve been awarded the grant sometime this spring, but regardless of the outcome, we will be making investments to mitigate future congestion on our pikes and arterials, including Gallatin Pike,” the spokesperson said.
Another potential change coming is what Governor Lee is calling “choice lanes,” which would be extra lanes with more reliable commute times that drivers can use for a fee.
“What I want to do is invest in roads and bridges in this state,” Lee said. “This is an innovative, creative way, we believe that Tennesseans will like to allow us to build roads but not go into debt and not raise taxes.”
A transportation expert in Texas, where these types of lanes are already in place, says choice lanes have the potential to help Tennessee commuters looking to save time.
“They allow people to say, ‘I really need to make this trip on time,'” said Tim Lomax, Ph.D. with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “That could be a meeting, a trip to the airport, some sort of business component, or just, I want to get home to see our child’s recital.”
Lomas explained that choice lanes may even work better than simply adding extra lanes.
“The traffic just sort of collapses in on the rush hour. So, the general effect of adding a lane isn’t that you fix the rush hour problem, it’s the period instead of being three hours it’s two and a half hours,” he said.
With all these ideas and more, leaders across the state hope that 2023 will be the year they launch projects that get Tennesseans where they want to go, faster.