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Tennessee Forum

September 21-22, 2000


In 1998 Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century or TEA-21. For the first time, this legislation requires state departments of transportation (DOTs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to incorporate safety and security as a priority factor in their respective transportation planning processes and activities. Prior to TEA-21, safety was sometimes a prominent factor in project development and design, but this legislation calls for safety consciousness in a more comprehensive, system wide, multi-modal context. At the very least, it implies collaboration with the highway safety and motor carrier safety communities.

To initiate discussion on the TEA-21 safety-planning factor, approximately 40 interested professionals convened in Washington, DC in May 2000 to explore the independent planning processes and to identify data, tools, partners and other resources that are currently available or need to be developed for implementing the safety requirement. The meeting identified several key steps for promoting safety integration. One of them was to encourage a series of forums at the state level bringing representatives of the various interests together to discuss strategies for sharing resources and working collaboratively. Tennessee volunteered to conduct a forum and serve as a pilot test. The lessons learned from this Forum were used to fine tune future planning.


The goal for the state pilot forums is to integrate safety into the DOT and MPO transportation planning processes. The objectives of this specific approach were to:


A planning meeting was held in July to determine roles and responsibilities, identify appropriate participants and develop an agenda for the TN forum held in Nashville, September 21-22. It was generally agreed during the planning session that one day would provide sufficient opportunity to accomplish the objectives. However, the forum was planned from noon to noon over a two-day period to provide time for a reception and a more informal opportunity for the participants to discuss the issues between the two half-day sessions. The chief planner for the TN DOT was appointed to chair the overall effort.


Approximately 50 people were identified for the invitation list and there were nearly 20 people who actually attended.[1] The attendees included:

The Agenda

The workshop agenda began with presentations from the TN DOT and MPO perspectives on their planning processes. (The formal agenda can be found in Appendix B.) The participants interacted frequently with the presenters to ask questions and clarify the processes. These presentations were followed by a "commentary" from the highway safety and the

motor carrier safety perspective. The idea was to identify strategies for the entities to work collaboratively, share information and generally assist one another in achieving the goal.

The facilitator assembled and organized the information presented and provided a review of the progress at the beginning of day two. The Washington FHWA representative then reviewed the TEA-21 requirement, suggested strategies for achieving safety integration and discussed national level activities currently underway for implementing the requirement. The participants spent the remainder of the time available working on recommendations for next steps.


The participants generally agreed that the forum was beneficial. If nothing else, many of the participants worked together for the first time and learned what the various entities are doing in the safety arena. Although they were uncertain about the eventual outcomes, they felt that their thinking and judgments had been influenced by the experience and that it would change their thinking for future planning efforts. The TN Forum discussion results are summarized according to the issues, recommendations and resource requirements that were identified during the meeting.

Defining Safety

At all levels of planning, agreement on the definition of safety is an issue. According to the forum participants, without a mutual goal or definition of safety, there will be little measurable progress. The highway safety representatives stated their planning goal as an annual two percent reduction in injuries and fatalities. The MPOs pointed out that measuring safety in terms of fatalities would rarely apply to their situations. The motor carrier representatives also bemoaned the fact that they are required to measure results using fatality data. Over the course of a single year, TN slid from the best to the worst in motor carrier safety according to the federally required system of measurement. There was a general sense of frustration over the lack of a clear and sensible definition by which to measure safety improvements and progress.



Similar to the Washington meeting, data issues were prominent on the list. The components discussed with regard to data were quality, quantity, timeliness, baseline measures, coding, analysis and information sharing.



ISTEA dramatically elevated the role in transportation planning for MPOs. As one of them said, "We are still reeling from ISTEA." In other words, they are still exploring and determining their roles and responsibilities from that legislation and, furthermore, they have not yet seen an implementing rule for TEA-21 so they really don't know what it means. The MPO representatives gave the impression that they lack technical expertise and other resources for integrating safety into their planning processes. They don't have the resources to plan at the site-specific level and the local jurisdictions lack the authority to plan from the "system-wide" perspective imposed by TEA-21.

Many MPOs don't have a safety engineer on staff and, even if they do, they lack the authority to impose safety as a priority-planning factor. As one MPO planner said, "Traffic engineers spend more time putting up banners than they do on traffic operations."

Opportunities exist for the creation and sharing of knowledge in the State. Tennessee's budget for research and technology is 3.5M. It has committees for research policy and planning; however, the MPOs, highway safety and motor carrier safety communities are not represented in making these decisions. The University of Tennessee, University Transportation Center, serves as the lead university in a southeast consortium focused on transportation safety. Also the LTAP has developed training related to traffic control and work zone safety. The roles of these entities are not clearly defined in relation to safety or indeed with respect to collaboration and communication.



MPO planners explained their roles as advisory rather than decision making in nature. Furthermore, it is their impression from AMPO and AASHTO meetings and publications that in most cases neither MPO nor DOT planners address safety in the planning processes. They tend to understand the safety issues, such as dangerous intersections and driver distraction, but don't see how the planning process can address those issues. Meanwhile, the decision-makers tend to be more focused on highly visible and/or politically motivated projects and safety is rarely at the top of their list of priorities. Also the focus on land use planning to support economic development or capacity enhancement often results in unforeseen trade offs from a safety perspective.



In all discussions, funding was an issue. In part this is a resource issue but there is also a question of allocation and priorities.

  1. Ten percent of the Surface Transportation Program (STP) funding is set aside for safety improvements but STP monies make up only a small part of the budget at the MPO level. The local governments generate most of the revenues and make the programmatic decisions about how the resources are to be deployed. As the MPO planners pointed out, they have little authority to tell the locals how to program their resources. However, it appears that the MPOs do have the authority to establish funding criteria but are reluctant to do so because of the political realities.
  2. The bureaucratic requirements tend to be inflexible and difficult to implement for programming and implementing projects, especially hazard elimination programs. It is unclear whether these barriers should be addressed at the federal or the state level. TN has set aside about 5M dollars for an "optional funding" program to increase the flexibility for solving safety and other problems. It establishes a threshold of $50,000 as seed money. If the costs do not exceed that amount, then most of the planning requirements do not apply.
  3. Resources for addressing safety issues are generally insufficient.



Information from the TN Forum may be useful for comparison purposes in other state forums. In some cases, "conventional wisdom" regarding the planning process turned out to be rather far from reality.


The TN Forum represents a good first effort. The pilot project itself was designed to generate recommendations for improving the process in other states.

  1. The idea of holding a planning meeting at least two months prior to the forum should be continued. The TN planning meeting was held about two months prior to the forum. This may be adequate but certainly no less time should be allowed. A half day should be allowed for the planning meeting itself to ensure that the state and local leadership for the forums is prepared to accomplish all the tasks and has assigned responsibilities for following through before the facilitators leave the state.
  2. Forum leadership from the state perspective should be made clear and the Steering Committee should ensure that the leadership is committed. The Steering Committee may want to designate the leader, e.g., the head of the state DOT planning division.
  3. The Steering Committee should provide a suggested agenda and list of participant representatives crafted from the lessons revealed in TN before the planning meeting. The number of participants should be limited so that group discussion is possible.
  4. The highway patrol, the Senate Transportation Committee, the Economic and Community Development Agency, many of the MPOs and city planners and the state representative from the American Planning Association declined to participate. If these participants are important to the process, more effort should be devoted to ensuring their attendance.
  5. With some feedback and fine-tuning, the FHWA overview provided by Michael Culp at this forum should be the lead presentation on the agenda for future forums.
  6. The facilitator attempted to "coach" the highway safety and motor carrier safety representatives as to the "commentator" role. However, in both cases, the remarks provided more of a very brief overview of their planning processes. Perhaps that is the best approach to ensure that all participants have a basic understanding of the processes and requirements of each planning entity.
  7. The Steering Committee's representative should consider assuming the responsibility for following up to provide assistance if needed and encourage implementation of the planning activities.


A follow up meeting was held in Nashville on May 7, 2001 to review the lessons learned from the forum, document progress and future plans and solicit feedback on the affect of the forum itself on the State's planning processes.

Planning Initiatives

  1. Data continues to be an issue in Tennessee. As Dennis Cook said, "We are data rich and information poor." In other words, they collect a great deal of data but it is not provided in useful formats in a timely fashion. The most comprehensive and timely data is available at the local level. For example, Nashville publishes the top ten accident locations and some other cities do as well. TDOT continues to struggle with the liability issues associated with publishing high accident locations. Ultimately the best solution is at the local level and requires getting the sheriffs and the planning professionals together.
    • A traffic records assessment has been completed by NHTSA.
    • TN has formed a steering committee to develop a plan for addressing the data issues.
    • The steering committee will approach the legislature and the Governor for resources and other assistance in implementing the plan.
  2. TDOT employs a traffic engineer and an assistant in each of the State's four regions. They are charged with implementing the Optional Safety Program, which provides funding for local, non-MPO, safety betterment projects that cost $50K or less. The meeting participants viewed this as an opportunity for tying some of the program people together at the local level.
  3. Art Victorine, the new GR, has changed the grant application process from a reactive to a proactive activity. Instead of sending out grant applications to anyone that might be interested, the process now involves problem identification and targeting resources where the high accident locations exist.
  4. There are three Law Enforcement Liaisons (LELs) in TN. Each covers 30 counties and is assigned the responsibility for meeting with local law enforcement officials in their territories to promote safety belt enforcement. He plans to explore the opportunity to train the LELs on the purpose and process regarding safety in planning and encourage the local officials to become involved in the process by helping to identify high accident locations and meeting with the regional traffic engineers. He also plans to introduce the Safe Communities coordinators and coalitions to the process and encourage their involvement.
  5. TDOT has implemented a long term, continuous strategic planning process that has just begun when the Forum was held in September. Goal Team IV has the responsibility for ensuring that safety is an important consideration in all phases of the Department's activities. Examining the reports on the web site can continuously assess their progress.
  6. TDOT operates a "Help Program" where they give selected employees six weeks of intensive training and then they patrol the roadways in four urban areas from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM in full service trucks to help stranded motorists. This program, funded through CMAQ[5]funds, has been advantageous in developing positive relationships with local law enforcement. It was suggested that these employees could receive further training to work with law enforcement on safety planning initiatives. This could serve to further reduce the large gap in communications between traffic engineers and law enforcement.
  7. The TDOT Advanced Planning Report (APR) includes accident rates for each proposed project. Projects are included in the plan where MPOs that have crash rates are "above critical level."
  8. After the TN Forum, an MPO certification review was held in Knoxville and safety was a key issue for discussion. It was suggested that safety should be considered as an agenda item for the next MPO annual meeting as well.



Appendix A

Arun Chatterjee UT Knoxville   865-974-7714
Karen Brunelle FHWA 640 Grassmere Pk Ste 112
Nashville 37211
David Martin FHWA 640 Grassmere Pk
Ste 112 Nashville 37211
Jeff Welch Metro Planning Commission 400 Main Ave
Knoxville TN 37902-2476
John Tidwell TDOT 505 Deaderick St Ste 600
Nashville TN 37243
Ralph Comer TDOT 505 Deaderick St Ste 900
Nashville TN 37243
Jerry Everett UT Knoxville Conference Ctr Bldg Ste 309
Knoxville 37996
Robert Boyd Fed Motor Carrier Safety Admin 640 Grassmere Pk
Ste 112 Nashville 37211
Gerald Gregory TDOT 505 Deaderick St Ste 400
Nashville 37243
David Holderfield City of Columbia Planning   931-388-1339
Ben Smith TDOT 505 Deaderick St Ste 400
Nashville 37243
Charles Boyd FHWA 640 Grassmere Pk Ste 112
Nashville 37211
Keith Donaldson Jackson Urban Area MPO 111 E Main St Ste 201
Jackson 38301
Rex Montgomery Bristol Metro Planning Org PO Drawer 1189
Bristol 37621
Karen Rhodes Chattanooga-Hamilton County Reg. Planning Comm 200 City Hall Annex
Chattanooga 37402
J. Stan Williams Clarksville Montgomery County Reg. Planning Comm 329 Main St
Clarksville 37040
Alan Bridwell Johnson City Metro Planning Comm 137 W Market St
Johnson City 37601
William Albright Kingsport Trans Dept 201 W Market St
Kingsport 37660
Eugene Bryan Memphis Shelby Co Office of Planning & Devlopment 125 N Main St Ste 468
Memphis TN 38103
Cyrus Sheik Nashville Metro Planning Commission 730 Second Ave So
Nashville 37201
Karen Hudt America Planning Asso 200 City Hall Annex
Chattanooga 37402
Mal Baird CMAC/TDOT 505 Deaderick St Ste 700
Nashville 37243
Frank Horne TDOT   615-532-3462
Diane Gusky TDOT   615-741-1553
Jeff Jones TDOT 505 Deaderick St
Nashville 37243
Charles Bush TDOT 505 Deaderick St
Nashville 37243
Dennis Cook TDOT 505 Deaderick Ste 700
Nashville 37243
Mike Shinn TDOT 505 Deaderick Ste 700
Nashville 37243
Dan Hawk TDOT   423-594-6666
Lynn Pitts THP 1150 Foster Ave
Nashville 7249
Major Butch Lawson THP 1150 Foster Ave
Nashville 37249
Micki Yearwood Tn State Senate Trans Committee 307 War Memorial Bldg Nashville 37243 615-741-7971
Sami Dietrich TDOT/GHSO 500 Deaderick St Ste 800 Nashville 37243 615-741-7590
Tom Hayes TDOT 505 Deaderick St
St 800 Nashville 37243
Jim Jeffers TDOT 6601 Centennial Blvd
Nashville 372
Luanne Grandinetti TDOT 505 Deaderick St Ste 700
Nashville 37243
David Donoho TDOT 505 Deaderick St Ste 700
Nashville 37243
Erick Moran NHTSA 61 Forsyth St SW Ste 17t30
Atlanta GA 30303
Bob Kirk UT Knoxville   865-522-6263
Dr. Stephen Richards UT Knoxville Conference Center Bldg Ste 309
Knoxville 37996
Gary Head TDOT 505 Deaderick StSte 700
Nashville 37243
Preston Elliot TDOT 505 Deaderick St
Nashville 37243

Appendix B


September 21-22, 2000

Nashville, TN

Thursday, 9/21 1:00 PM

Keynote Address

1:30 PM

Planning Perspectives

1.      State DOT planner

2.      MPO planner

2:30 PM

Commentary on the planning perspectives:

3:00 PM

Breakout Groups

4:30 PM

Plenary Session (3-5 minute reports from each group and general discussion)

5:30 PM


Friday 9/22 8:00 AM

Continental Breakfast

8:30 AM

Plenary Session

9:00 AM

Breakout Groups-complete action plans

11:00 AM


11:45 AM

Next Steps

12:30 PM


[1]An accurate list of the TN Forum participants is not available.

[2]Steve Richards at the University of Tennessee teaches a course on safety integration. A "short course" version of his curriculum may be adapted to develop the training program. Also, it was suggested that the FHWA Safety Analysis Guidebook for Transportation Planning that is currently under development could be provided to DOT and MPO planners in stages as it becomes available. User-friendly formats and design were strongly encouraged.

[3]The Planners in the TN forum were familiar with SEMCOG and its transportation planning in the safety arena. They think that SEMCOG's access to good data is the key component to their success. They can show the decision-makers where the problems are and report on impact. It was also noted that SEMCOG has access to funding for safety projects that other MPOs don't have.

[4]The forum participants recommended that the state DOT should be the source for announcing increased set aside funding. They agreed that if the dictate came from Washington, managers would simply find ways to get around the requirement.

[5]Congestion Management/Air Qualit

Updated: 10/13/2011
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