Transportation challenges raise tough questions for Tennessee

Of the mountain of information stuffed into the University of Tennessee’s annual economic forecast released on Thursday, one the most important sections — and probably most overlooked — is a chapter on the state’s transportation network.

Norfolk_Southern01.jpgThis special section offers Gov. Bill Haslam and his new administration a detailed primer on the state’s transportation infrastructure — road, rail, river and air — and its importance to the state economy.

Building and maintaining a robust transportation system is one of the most important services government provides. Virtually every aspect of the economy depends on transportation.

The UT report prepared by the Center for Business and Economic Research lays out the transportation challenges facing Tennessee and asks several provocative questions:

• Will the demographic trends favoring growing populations in the south and southeastern U.S. continue and, if so, how should Tennessee prepare for sustained population increases?

• When the growth in global commerce as a component within Tennessee’s economy resumes as the world economy recovers from recession, what will increased international trade require of Tennessee’s transportation networks?

• Both in terms of international and domestic freight traffic, how important is intermodal truck-rail transportation and what does its continued growth mean to transportation planners and practitioners in Tennessee?

• Will the confounding volatility in global petroleum prices continue to hamstring our ability to forecast fuel prices and, if so, how will this affect the demand for and ability to fund transportation infrastructures?

• What will be the form and extent of future safety, security, environmental, and community livability standards as they apply to transportation in Tennessee?

Finding the answers won’t be easy, but taxpayers are counting on the Haslam administration to make sure the state transportation network is ready for the future.

Read more on the transportation issue in the 2011 Economic Report to the Governor.

Photo: Containers and trailers are transferred between trucks and trains at Norfork-Southern Corp. Intermodal Transportation hub. (Norfolk-Southern)