Nashville, TN. — The Tennessee Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released the 2022 Report Card for Tennessee's Infrastructure today, with 13 categories of infrastructure receiving an overall grade of a ‘C’, the same grade given by the section in its 2016 report. That means Tennessee’s infrastructure is in mediocre condition and requires attention, but is a step ahead of the national average of “C-“ given in the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Tennessee’s freight network is strong and plays a major role in the national economy as a key mobility hub and its energy grid has been reliable, allowing families and businesses to operate efficiently. Many of the state’s systems are performing at or above national averages; however, a surge in population growth, increasingly severe weather impacts, and insufficient data on the current condition of several infrastructure sectors threaten the long-term viability of the state’s overall network. Civil engineers graded aviation (C+), bridges (B), dams (D+), drinking water (C+), energy (C+), inland waterways (C), parks (C+), rail (C), roads (C), solid waste (C+), stormwater (C+), transit (D+), and wastewater (C-).
“As one of the most prominent mobility hubs in all of America, infrastructure is the backbone to all we do here in Memphis, and everything we can accomplish throughout the great state of Tennessee,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “Our airports, roads and bridges keep our economy flowing, drawing more jobs and businesses in the future. The ASCE report is a critical tool for tracking our progress, in addition to highlighting where we could use some work. With more people flocking to Tennessee than ever before, this is an exciting time and our infrastructure networks must be ready to help us capitalize on the opportunity.”
“This report shows that Tennessee’s infrastructure is a driving force behind the economic strength in our state and our state’s significant role in the national supply chain,” said Monica Sartain, chair, 2022 Report Card for Tennessee’s Infrastructure. “We cannot begin taking these systems for granted if we want to sustain our current successes with population growth adding strain to the existing system.”
Aviation (C+), Bridges (B) and Roads (C)
Only 4.2% of Tennessee’s bridges are rated in poor condition, a decrease from 6% in 2010 and one of the best rates of any state in the country, far below the national average of 7.3%. This is thanks to extensive investments in rebuilding or rehabilitating existing bridges and prioritizing those with the greatest need. However, the number of bridges going from good to fair has increased as well, from 44% of bridges being in fair condition and 50% in good condition in 2013 to 53% fair and 43% good in 2021. This must be addressed to prevent more bridges from reaching poor condition.
Airports (C+) were one of the few categories to see a grade drop in Tennessee. Major commercial airports saw massive growth over the last decade in the state. Memphis International Airport remains the biggest freight operation in the United States with FedEx’s world hub operation, and passengers at Nashville International Airport doubled between 2010 and 2019. However, caps on the fuel tax and limitations on passenger facilities charges present problems in the future. Since lawmakers passed the fuel tax cap, funding for state aviation projects has been cut by more than half. Tennessee airports face a $3 billion funding gap from 2019-2023. If the gap were closed, the associated projects would create more than 65,000 jobs.
Tennessee roads (C) are generally in good or fair condition, with only .04% of interstate highways in poor condition. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide $6.86 billion in funding for Tennessee roads over the next five years, which could increase the state’s GDP by $1.42 billion each year. Traffic continues to be an issue in the region, costing the region’s economy $1.2 billion per year according to 2018 data. With the influx of residents, the state will need to find ways to alleviate bottlenecks as current projections expect an increase in congestion.
Drinking Water (C+) and Stormwater (C+)
Tennessee uses nearly one billion gallons of water a day through surface water, groundwater and private water systems. The EPA estimates $8.7 billion in funding is needed to maintain and improve Tennessee’s drinking water (C+) infrastructure over the next 20 years. Water loss from aging, leaking water pipes continues to be an issue. The 212 drinking water systems in Tennessee average water loss of 33%, with 43 of those systems losing 40% of drinking water.
Tennessee’s rapid growth has led to increasing stormwater (C+) concerns, as growth in heavily populated parts of the state means more hard surfaces on the ground, which leads pollutants into waterways. Of the waterways that have been tested at least 56% have pollutants, yet only 46% of the total waterway systems have been tested. Twenty-two cities in Tennessee have implemented stormwater utility fees, which help maintain stormwater systems and manage flooding.
In 1933, Congress established the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to foster economic development, control flooding, and promote the integration of its natural resources. Almost 90 years later, TVA operates the nation’s largest public power system: generating and transmitting power to a population of nearly 10 million people and 700,000 businesses including Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. TVA has operated with 99.9% reliability over the past twenty years while utilizing ASCE standards. Local power companies (LPC) take electricity from TVA and distribute to residents. Much greater public data from LPCs are necessary for decision-makers to understand Tennessee’s energy infrastructure needs.
The report also includes calls to action to raise the grades, which include:
Increase availability and acquisition of data used for design, planning, and other decision-making processes. TN collects a lot of data on transportation-related areas of infrastructure. However, data on other infrastructure networks is limited. Although improvement in this area has been seen specifically in the areas of water & wastewater, there is still limited to no data on locally or privately owned infrastructure components including stormwater, dams, and parks.
Fully fund infrastructure projects as needed to eliminate backlog and/or deferred maintenance so agencies are better able to address aging systems in the future. Although strides have been made across the state to eliminate work backlog and reduce local matches for some projects, there are still areas with large amounts of deferred maintenance.
Include considerations for population growth and extreme weather events when planning and funding future projects. TN has seen heavy increases in both population and the incident of extreme weather events in the past few years. For our infrastructure to keep up with these changes, special attention must be paid to these trends when planning and funding for future projects.
The Report Card was created as a public service to citizens and policymakers to inform them of the infrastructure needs in their state. Civil engineers used their expertise and school report card-style letter grades to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis of Tennessee’s infrastructure network. ASCE State and Regional Infrastructure Report Cards are modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s infrastructure an overall grade of ‘C-’ in 2021.
To view the report card and all five categories, visit https://infrastructurereportcard.org/state-item/tennessee/.
About the American Society of Civil Engineers
Founded in 1852, the American Society of Civil Engineers represents more than 150,000 civil engineers worldwide and is America's oldest national engineering society. ASCE works to raise awareness of the need to maintain and modernize the nation's infrastructure using sustainable and resilient practices, advocates for increasing and optimizing investment in infrastructure, and improve engineering knowledge and competency. For more information, visit www.asce.org or www.infrastructurereportcard.org and follow us on Twitter, @ASCETweets and @ASCEGovRel.