Tennessee transportation officials say they are concerned
about a “dramatic” increase in the number of tractor-trailers traveling through
As a result, officials are brainstorming for new ways to
manage truck traffic on Tennessee’s 1,070 miles of interstates in the coming
The state Department of Transportation contends the
challenge is to move the traffic, keep it safe, and minimize truck pollution –
without delaying the arrival of goods residents expect every day.
The rise in truck traffic “has been dramatic,” with
tractor-trailers making up roughly 25 percent of all interstate traffic, said
Kim Keelor, spokeswoman for TDOT.
“We are within about a day’s drive of half the country. We
are a major ‘through corridor,’” she said.
Nationwide, freight hauled by truck has skyrocketed more
than 500 percent since the 1970s, she said.
On a tonnage basis, approximately three quarters of the
freight in the state, an estimated 370 million tons, travels by truck, ranking
Tennessee sixth in the nation and first in the southeast for cargo ton-miles
and value of commodities carried by truck.
State officials are discussing with the public ways to cope
with the increased number of trucks. One idea getting close scrutiny would keep
trucks in the right lanes, where possible.
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator
Independent Drivers Association, has serious concerns about restricting lane usage.
He questions the safety issues of merging vehicles.
“Adopting lane restrictions would be an ill-advised step to
take,” Spencer said. “Such restrictions invariably cause more problems than
Spencer noted that in 2003, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen
signed a bill into law requiring all drivers to merge into the furthest lane
away from an emergency vehicle parked by the road with lights flashing.
“Most states now recognize it is in the interest of safety
for cars and trucks to move out of the right lane when emergency vehicles are
on the shoulder. The same is true when non-emergency vehicles are on the side
of the road,” Spencer said.
“Trucks and other vehicles need to be able to move over a
lane to allow traffic to enter the interstates. It’s common courtesy, but this
is also about highway safety.
“When you start restricting vehicles to certain lanes you
end up with more vehicles tailgating and making unsafe passing maneuvers in all
lanes. This isn’t good for congestion or highway safety.”
Other options being explored to make Tennessee highways
safer include new technology to alert drivers of high speeds on more dangerous
To cope with congestion, Keelor said the highway agency has
taken comments about expanding rail service across the state to carry more
freight and ease interstate traffic.
The proposed changes could be incorporated into a long-term
transportation plan covering all forms of transportation including airports,
bicycle routes, walk paths, highways, bridges, ports and waterways, public
transportation and railroads. TDOT officials expect to finalize the 25-year
plan by next summer.
Until then, the department is in the process of meeting with
the public to get suggestions for the plan.
For information on upcoming public meetings or to voice your
opinion, call the Tennessee Department of Transportation toll free at
1-866-389-8443; send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or write to Long Range
Transportation Plan, Tennessee Department of Transportation, James K. Polk
Building, Suite 700, Deaderick St., Nashville, TN 37242.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor