An organization in Tennessee is encouraging residents and visitors to take secondary routes in an effort to see more scenery and help with heavy traffic loads in some areas. 

As part of the “100 Years of Road Funding,” the Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance (TIA) is encouraging drivers to take more scenic roads to their destination. It’s part of a celebration and history project wrapped into one that also asks people to write and tell oral histories about the roads and snap photos, said Susie Alcorn, executive director of the TIA and curator of 100 Years of Road Funding. 

“There’s a little more than 400 state routes in Tennessee,” she said, later adding: “To be on a secondary road is less stressful than being on an interstate. So there’s a personal level from the start, that it’s a de-stressor to be on the secondary roads. And then specifically related just to the scenic aspect, we know that there’s a great amount of beauty that is found on these secondary roads.”

Sabya Mishra is a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Memphis. His research expertise is in understanding traffic patterns and analyzing transportation economics. 

Mishra said using scenic routes can be a great way to alleviate congestion on already congested roads. 

Changing traffic patterns could also have positive effects in other ways. The current system was built for approximately 3 million people, according to the Infrastructure Alliance. But Tennessee’s population has ballooned to 7 million and continues to grow. 

“Additionally, promoting the use of less traveled scenic routes can help alleviate strain on the aging interstate infrastructure,” he said. “Tennessee, in particular, offers many scenic routes that provide access to small towns. These initiatives can have a positive impact on the economy of these remote towns.”

He said many tourists, both from within and outside the state, will be drawn to less traveled roads for recreational pursuits. 

“The impact of this on smaller communities will be significant, particularly in terms of their economy,” he told the Daily Yonder. “This will open up new opportunities for recreational activities such as hiking trails, cycling trails, and a growing demand for local produce and restaurants, among other things.”

But Mishra cautioned against some of the other things that could happen due to the changes, such as extra traffic, pollution and safety. 

“Unfortunately, many scenic routes are characterized by conditions that are strongly associated with highway crashes, such as winding roads, steep inclines, and the presence of unfamiliar drivers,” he said. “These safety concerns are further exacerbated by adverse weather and lighting conditions.”

To address these issues, he said it is important to adopt adequate road safety measures. 

“This includes the installation of appropriate signage, guardrails and visibility improvements,” he added. “Regular enforcement of traffic regulations should also be prioritized to ensure compliance and enhance overall safety along scenic routes. Safety studies should continually be developed to build safer routes.”

“We hope that people realize that secondary roads really are an efficient manner in which to travel,” Alcorn told the Daily Yonder. “I think that we are all mostly creatures of habit as human beings. And what we’re trying to do is give them a new habit, so to speak, by putting them on some of these roads that, again, they can destress on, have such beautiful scenery as they’re going through those areas. And really just expand what their logistical options are as they move about Tennessee.”

This year marks 100 years since Austin Peay, governor at the time, urged the Tennessee General Assembly to approve funding for roads. 

“Today, we have more than just 96,000 miles of roads in Tennessee,” she said. “So that 100 years of funding has brought that 96,000 miles. But for every road that is out there, there’s a group of people who helped build that road. So we’re also looking for the road creation stories.”

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