Smart Growth America helps Tennessee with familiar problem: Many projects and limited funds

By Robbie Webber
A technical assistance report from Smart Growth America revealed that Tennessee DOT has a problem: nine times more projects in its work plan than it has funding. They needed an analysis of which projects were a priority and how some needs might be addressed by less expensive solutions.
Removing Barriers to Smarter Transportation Investments aims to increase TDOT’s efficiency and ensure the greatest possible return on transportation investments. As a result, TDOT has compiled a series of recommendations designed to pin down areas for improvement, prioritize projects, and streamline processes.
Although transportation investments are important to economic recovery and citizen mobility, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer realizes that they need to embrace new ways of doing business. “We must enable and encourage more flexible, innovative and lower-cost solutions to the state’s transportation needs. Prioritizing and designing projects to add the most value for their cost is smart, common-sense policy in a time of fiscal constraint, and all Tennesseans stand to benefit from an even more effective Department of Transportation,” he told Smart Growth America.
TDOT is already in the process of developing more rigorous metrics for the measurement of broad project benefits and better prioritization of projects. The analysis also suggests that TDOT should audit its existing work program to eliminate projects that are no longer needed and right-size projects that can be improved.
“Scaling projects to available resources upfront and making sure that they are flexible and tailored to local needs will go a long way toward ensuring that Tennessee taxpayers get the best bang for their buck,” says Roger Millar, Vice President of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute. “By emphasizing the importance of the planning, programming, environmental and design phases of the project development process, TDOT will deliver a higher quality of service at less cost.”
Robbie Webber is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.