Tennessee DOT breaks ground on nation’s largest traffic incident training facility

By Chris McCahill

The Tennessee Department of Transportation started construction early this month on a Traffic Incident Management Training Facility just outside of Nashville, the first of its kind in the country. The project—worth close to a million dollars—is a joint effort between TDOT and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, sponsored by the federal Highway Safety Improvement Project. The facility will feature a replicated Interstate segment, a four-lane highway segment, an interchange, and a four-way intersection. It will be open to any incident responders in the state, including police, emergency crews, and towing companies.

TDOT has been developing and bolstering its traffic incident management program for the past 15 years. In 1999, it launched its intelligent transportation systems program, called Smartway, and its incident-response patrol, called HELP, both of which now operate in four of the state’s largest metropolitan areas. These programs are tracked in annual performance reports that are published on the agency’s website. A strategic plan released in 2003 outlined progress to date and action tasks for improving the program over the next five years.

The new facility will help TDOT meet its goal of expanding training opportunities for incident responders in the state, not only improving their effectiveness at relieving non-recurring congestion, but also in doing so safely. TDOT Commissioner John Schroer explained, “We know the longer roadways remain closed due to major traffic incidents, the danger of secondary crashes increases dramatically. Improving emergency response will decrease congestion and keep our highways safer for all motorists.”

The Tennessee Highway Patrol initiated the project but lacked a sufficient funding source, so its leaders approached TDOT with the idea. With the department of Safety and Homeland Security on board, the agency was able to secure federal funds covering 90% of the project’s costs. The facility is expected to open this fall.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.