NASHVILLE, Tenn. - They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but old pictures of Middle Tennessee interstates from back when they were installed tell a whole story. The story of how Nashville traffic grew from just a few cars on area interstates to gridlock.
"It's been widened some, but the capacity on that road hasn't been increased near as much as the number of people that have moved to Nashville," Paul Degges, Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) deputy commissioner and chief engineer, said of I-65.
The folks at TDOT pay close attention to all state roads, and the general rule when you plan for a road is you also plan for how that road will be used 20 years from now.
For the interstates put in more than 50 years ago, it would have been hard to imagine how they'd be used in 2018.
"Back in the early days, people thought that there would never be enough traffic on our interstates to really create much congestion," Degges said, adding that there simply weren't as many people, or cars, in Nashville at the time. "It was probably around 6,000 to 8,000 cars a day."
Planning 20 years out, I-65 and other interstates were designed to carry about 20,000 cars a day.
"It's probably carrying 75,000, 80,000 vehicles right now," Degges said.
The problem is the interstates can only be widened so much, but the growth isn't stopping.
"We know that in the Nashville area, in the next 15, 20 years, there's going to be another million people."
Degges explained that TDOT is working to bring forward alternatives to ease traffic, including suggestions to stagger work times in Nashville, allowing traffic to be spread out over a more than 3 hour period rather than focused around 8 a.m., as well as doing their best to clear lane-blocking accidents in less than 90 minutes.
Moving forward, the interstates will continue to be invested in, because the one thing TDOT is sure of is that traffic isn't going away.
"I think it's worth making these types of investments people people can see what they get out of them," Degges said.
There are currently plans in place to overhaul I-440 in Nashville, which will include adding new lanes.