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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Original Author: Ashburn, Melissa
Date of Material: 03/24/2003

Streets--Names and numbering

City Authority to Name State Highway

Reviewed Date: 05/28/2020
MTAS was asked whether a city has the power to name a portion of a state highway located in the municipality, when a bill is introduced in the state legislature designating a name for the highway.

March 24, 2003

Re: City authority to name state highway

Dear Mayor,

Your Management Consultant has advised me of a situation which has arisen in your City concerning the naming of a portion of a state highway located within municipal boundaries. It is my understanding that the City has named the road, and that a bill was subsequently introduced in the General Assembly to designate a different name. You have asked if the state legislature can mandate the name applicable to a state highway for that portion of the road contained within municipal boundaries. The answer, in my opinion, is no.

The general law provides that local governments have the power to name public roads located within their boundaries, at Tennessee Code Annotated § 7-86-127. Based on this statute, regardless of whether the road is a state highway, the city has the legal authority to name that portion of the road located in the city. This of course does not mean that the state numbering for the highway can be changed or removed, only that the right to name the road rests with the city.

I have not seen a copy of the bill introduced, but I assume it applies only to this particular road. If so, it is merely a private act disguised as a public act, and is unconstitutional. The General Assembly cannot pass a public act that only has an impact on a particular city or county. Our state constitution provides:

The Legislature shall have no power to suspend any general law for the benefit of any particular individual, not to pass any law for the benefit of individuals inconsistent with the general laws of the land; nor to pass any law granting to any individual or individuals, rights, privileges, immunitie (immunities) or exemptions other than such as may be, by the same law extended to any member of the community, who may be able to bring himself within the provisions of such law. (Emphasis added)

Article XI, Section 8, of the Tennessee Constitution. This section is interpreted as forbidding the legislature from passing private acts which deviate from the general law, or passing public acts which apply only to specific localities. Special legislation only affecting specific areas must be supported by a showing that some special circumstance or condition exists which is unique to that area. Jones v. Haynes, 424 S.W.2d 197 (Tenn. 1968).

I cannot imagine that some special circumstances exists which would justify abrogating the power of the city granted by the general law to name streets within city boundaries. As such, in my opinion, the city retains its right and may name the state highway whatever name it deems appropriate.

The only way the General Assembly may legally stop the city from naming the street is to repeal the statute cited above, T.C.A. § 7-86-127, which would have the effect of removing all power of all cities to name streets. You will agree that this is a very unlikely scenario. MTAS keeps a close eye on bills introduced in the General Assembly, and we haven’t seen one this year that would repeal the statute.

I hope this information is helpful. Thank you for consulting with MTAS.


Melissa A. Ashburn
Legal Consultant