A new four-lane road is being constructed on the southern arc of Nashville with the hopes of it bringing new economic prosperity to the smaller communities in middle Tennessee.
Gov. Lamar Alexander proposed the construction on State Route 840 and the Tennessee General Assembly approved the road project in 1986 as part of the Better Roads Program.
The goal was to provide economic growth through improved access to communities in the mid-state, according to Tennessee Department of Transportation Spokeswomen Luanne Grandinetti.
“We wanted to be able to connect some of the smaller cities in the area,” she said.
The $490-million project was first funded in the 1986-87 state budget and planning activities immediately got underway. Survey and design work began in 1989, and construction on the first section in Wilson County between I-40 and Stewarts Ferry Pike began in 1991 opening to traffic in August of 1995. The connection between I-40 and I-24 was made in November of 1996. The most recent section of State Route 840 to open is from I-24 to US-31A near Triune, TN, in Williamson County.
The funds for the road still come solely from the state budget as construction continues on State Route 840. So far, 36 of the total 78 miles are open to traffic. The breakdown of miles is 13 miles in Wilson County, 20 miles in Rutherford County, 37 miles in Williamson County, two miles in Hickman County and six miles in Dickson County. Construction plans call for 19 interchanges along State Route 840.
The road, which will eventually connect with a northern stretch to completely circle Nashville, is approximately 30 miles from the downtown area. Its purpose is not to serve as a bypass in normal situations, but it can relieve traffic from Nashville’s busy interstates during high-traffic congestion or construction, Grandinetti said.
“Our secondary goal was to take some traffic off the roads in the urban area of Nashville,” she added.
Originally the plans called for an arc running south of the city, but in the 1990s, transportation officials added plans to continue the circle on the north of the city. Construction has not begun on the northern portion yet.
State officials hope the lower portion will be complete in 2007. The portion that runs from US-31A, which is Nolensville Road in Williamson County, to I-65 near Franklin is under construction with an estimated completion date of later this year, meaning more than two-thirds of the road will be complete by the end of the year. The section between I-40 in Dickson County through Hickman County to State Route 100 in Williamson County is also under construction and should be complete in late 2002.
However, there is a small glitch in the construction schedule of the section that runs from SR-100 to Thompson Station Road. Some property owners in that area have formed the Southwest Williamson County Community Association and have entered into litigation with the state calling for a stop in construction.
“There are a handful of people that don’t want the road,” Grandinetti said, adding the state is hopeful the litigation will be over soon and the courts will rule in the state’s favor. Until the litigation is over, the DOT is unable to determine an absolute final completion date for the road.
Despite some opposition by property owners, Grandinetti said there are several indicators that the established goals are being met and a number of economic development opportunities are in place thanks to the new access in the area.
“There are quite a few things we can point to that have proven to be beneficial to this area that are a direct result of this highway system,” she said.
One of the biggest new additions attributed to State Route 840 is a new NASCAR racetrack recently built near the Wilson/Rutherford County line between Lebanon and Murfreesboro. The facility opened in April. The DOT was able to add a new interchange to the road to serve the racetrack, which promises more tourism in the area and jobs for area residents.
“It would not be there if State Route 840 hadn’t been built because there would have been no access,” Grandinetti said, adding it is important for more business to have the opportunity to do business in Tennessee.
She also added that since Tennessee doesn’t have a state income tax, they rely heavily on sales tax. So the more money spent in Tennessee, the more money that goes into the state budget.
“If people go to the race track, they will have to spend money on food or on hotel rooms. All of that spending results in sales tax money that will help the state,” she said.
Plus, she said, the new road will provide more opportunities for construction activity in the area, another moneymaker for the state, and more convenience for workers in middle Tennessee.
The workers at the Saturn automotive plant in Spring Hill and the Nissan plant in Smyrna will have better access to work, and the companies will have better mobility to receive parts and materials and ship out their final products.
The roadwork itself has proven to be an economic boon for the contractors in middle Tennessee. There are about eight to 10 contractors completing the road project work, which was sectioned off and put out for competitive bid, Grandinetti said. The contractors are responsible for the entire scope of the work at the site, including site construction, grading, paving, guard rail installation and road striping.
So far, the DOT has already spent or has contracts in place for at least $300 million on State Route 840.
“We already have a great highway system in the state of Tennessee,” Grandinetti said. “State Route 840 is a huge compliment to what we already have.”
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