The first road built by the state was in 1799, called Walton Road. It extended from Knoxville through Kingston, Carthage, Gallatin and to Nashville, and was built for $1,000. That route generally follows what is currently known as US 70.
The predecessor to the Tennessee Department of Transportation was created by legislative act in 1915 when the first administrative agency for highways was created and the first highway commission to guide its activities.
The highway commission was directed by six non-compensated commissioners which included the Governor, the state geologist and the dean of the University of Tennessee Engineering School.
The first recognition by the federal government that roads were of national significance was in 1916 when Congress passed The Federal Aid Road Act setting up a system of federal funding for highways that continues until present day.
In 1919, transportation was organized under a three-commissioner structure. The first “State Highway Commissioners” were W.P. Moore, W.W. House and W.T. Testerman, all three serving from 1919 to 1923.
The agency was reorganized in 1923 with the establishment of a single commissioner in Chapter 7 of the Public Acts of 1923.
Under the single commissioner structure in 1923, J.G. Creveling, Jr. was appointed by Gov. Austin Peay.
To promote the fledging field of aviation in Tennessee, the Division of Aeronautics was created in an extraordinary legislative session as part of the Department of Highways and Public Works in 1929.
In 1956, Congress approved and President Eisenhower signed into law the creation of the U.S. Interstate System. The bill was co-sponsored by Tennessee’s U.S. Senator Albert Gore, Sr.
In 1972, the agency name was changed to the Tennessee Department of Transportation to reflect other modes in addition to highways.
The first state gas tax in Tennessee was imposed in 1923, a two-cent tax. The last state gas tax increase was in 1989 when it was raised to 21.4 cents per gallon.