Study: Just 47 percent of Chattanooga area roads are 'good'

Study: Just 47 percent of Chattanooga area roads are 'good'

January 19th, 2016 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Gallery: Study: Just 47 percent of Chattanooga area roads are 'good'

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By the numbers

53 — Percent of major roads in Chattanooga area rated as poor, mediocre or fair

28 — Hours stuck in traffic annually by the average Chattanoogan due to congestion

16 — Percent of bridges in the Chattanooga area which are functionally obsolete

Source: TRIP

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 1/19/16. Carolyn Bonifas Kelly, Associate Director of Research and Communication with TRIP, speaks about a new study and traffic congestion costs for Tennessee residents while at the Gunbarrel Road AAA office on Tuesday, January 19, 2016.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 1/19/16. Carolyn Bonifas Kelly, Associate Director of Research and Communication with TRIP, speaks about a new study and traffic congestion costs for Tennessee residents while at the Gunbarrel Road AAA office on Tuesday, January 19, 2016.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

With the Tennessee General Assembly slated to take up transportation funding, a new study Tuesday says that less than half of the major roads in the Chattanooga area are rated in "good" condition.

Also, the average Chattanooga driver loses $1,440 annually due to traffic congestion, crashes and higher vehicle operating costs, said the study by the national nonprofit transportation research group TRIP, or The Road Infrastructure Program.

Statewide, Tennessee motorists pay $5.6 billion annually due to the transportation deficiencies, the study said.

"Those costs are already startlingly high and will get higher in the future if the state isn't able to invest adequately in its transportation system," said Carolyn Bonifas Kelly, TRIP's associate director of research and communication.

Due to traffic congestion alone, Chattanoogans on average lose 28 hours a year, the report said.

It calls for "a substantial boost" in state or local funding to meet needs, but it does not recommend a gas tax or any other mechanism to produce more transportation money.

Stephanie Milani, of the AAA Auto Club Group, said it would like to see "a comprehensive package" of funding in Tennessee to meet transportation needs.

"The easiest thing would be to increase the gasoline tax. That is fair to most motorists," she said.

But it doesn't take into account the small number of motorists who drive electric or hybrid vehicles and pay little or nothing at the pump, Milani said.

She said 22 states have addressed transportation funding over the past three years. Texas is taking money out of the general fund and earmarking it to transportation, Milani said.

Georgia took a multi-pronged approach last year, and one of those steps was a gas tax increase, she said.

Kelly said some states have used the issuance of bonds to fill transportation gaps.

"Tennessee will have to consider a whole menu of options to come up with the right approach," she said.

Kelly said that in December the federal government passed a new long-term transportation funding bill. But, she said, funding levels for that bill won't be high enough for all the needed improvements nationally. Also, the funding mechanisms in that bill are "unsustainable" and many are unrelated to transportation, Kelly said.

According to Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee has a multi-billion dollar backlog of highway projects spread across the state. Lawmakers have discussed a gas tax increase, creating toll roads, or using bonds to pay for the upgrades.

One proposal calls for adding $150 to the state's registration fee for electric cars and $75 to the cost for hybrid cars. Another aims to divert the state's 7 percent sales tax revenue collected from the sale of tires into the highway fund. That money now goes into the state's general fund.

"If Tennessee is unable to complete needed transportation projects in the state, it will hamper Tennessee's ability to improve the condition and efficiency of its transportation system and to enhance economic development opportunities and quality of life," the study said.

In other parts of Tennessee, the Memphis area had the highest percentage of poor or mediocre roads among the state's biggest metros at 52 percent, while Knoxville was just 14 percent, the study said.

But, 29 percent of bridges in the Knoxville area are functionally obsolete, with Memphis coming in at 19 percent, it said.

Drivers in Nashville/Davidson County lose 45 hours annually due to traffic congestion, followed by Memphis at 43 hours, the study said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.


Updated Jan. 19 at 11: 20 p.m.


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