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Tennessee DOT Moves Past Road-Widening as a Congestion Reduction Strategy

In the late eighties and nineties, every traffic issue the Tennessee Department of Transportation faced was assigned the same solution: a bypass. But over the years, the department has come around to a new way of doing things, according to 40-year TDOT veteran Ralph Comer. Comer says the current commissioner, John Schroer, wants to become known as the “no-bypass commissioner.” He simply believes there are usually more cost-effective ways of solving transportation problems.

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This way of thinking led Schroer, Comer, and the department into a conversation with Smart Growth America. They teamed up to examine the state of Tennessee’s transportation system and devise a path forward, bringing together an impressively coalition, from the Tennessee Disability Coalition to the Sierra Club, the public transit association to the road builders association. One irrefutable fact brought them together: The TDOT project pipeline would cost nine times more to construct than available funding would permit. Something had to change.

Tennessee is in better fiscal shape than most states and is one of a small handful of states with zero debt – meaning it pays zero percent of its budget toward debt service, leaving a lot more for infrastructure. That's a luxurious position in today’s economic context. So if a close examination of cost-effective transportation strategies can be transformative for Tennessee, just imagine what it can do for states even more desperate to get costs under control.

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