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Bypass, SR-373 ready for inspection

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

COLUMBIA -- State Transportation Commissioner John Schroer is set to inspect road construction projects in Marshall County on Sept. 15, his office reports.

"I always liked it when state leaders came to visit," Schroer said, citing his experience when he was mayor of Franklin and chairman of the Franklin Special School District.

Columbia Mayor Dean Dickey feels the same way.

"It's good to work with a guy who's worked at the local level," Dickey said. Schorer is "a good guy to work with." Schoer met with Columbia's city engineer before the service club luncheon.

Widening of Mooresville Highway (Route 373) and Lewisburg's bypass (South Ellington Parkway) from Fayetteville Highway to Columbia State Community College and reconstruction of the East Church Street bridge near the bypass at Finley Beech Road, are the projects Schroer is to visit.

Schroer is a "very visual" person, he said of his preference to have a look at projects. As a result, he's initiated a series of project tours. Details of the schedule are being finalized. No specific bus stop had been selected as of Monday afternoon.

However, a stop in Marshall County will give local officials an opportunity to climb aboard the Gray Line-type coach and tour with the commissioner on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 15, TDOT spokeswoman B.J. Doughty said Monday. The bus will be in Lawrence and Giles counties before lunch and could be in Marshall County at 2:30 p.m.

"We are in the process of finalizing a schedule that will be released to ... all the locations," Doughty said.

Schorer was the guest speaker Thursday at the Columbia Kiwanis Club luncheon in the Memorial Building where he provided an overview of various projects of interest to Middle Tennessee residents.

"State Route 840 is going to be opened up in Dec. 2012," Schroer said.

Completion of SR-840 is, "without question," going to be an economic boost to the region, he said of the broad southern loop around Nashville that remains unfinished in Williamson County between Thompson's Station and the Pinewood Community.

"That is a key factor when you're trying to recruit industry that uses a lot of truck traffic," the TDOT commissioner said. "I think it will cut 45 minutes off a trip to Interstate 40" from I-65.

State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), who represents Marshall County in the General Assembly, traveled with Schroer. He, too, noted timesavings anticipated with the completion of SR-840, a road Schroer recalled as a project stemming from ideas when U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander was governor.

Finishing the portion of SR-840 through Williamson County will have a "huge impact," Ketron said.

Environmental issues were raised in the 1990s about construction of the highway through southwest Williamson County where area residents took TDOT to federal court for failing to get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before construction began in that area under then-Gov. Don Sundquist.

"I think all the environmental issues have been taken care of on that" section, Ketron said after Schroer's appearance.

Marshall's state senator also noted that a trip from Murfreesboro to I-40 west of Nashville would "cut off an hour" of a trip to Memphis.

The first sections of SR-840 connected Interstates 24 and 40 between Murfreesboro/Smyrna to Lebanon. Some Rutherford County businessmen said the thought the highway prompted as much, if not greater, growth than the Nissan plant in Smyrna.

Exit 46 along I-65 is another project Schroer mentioned.

"We are looking at doing a new interchange at Route 99," the commissioner said.

The interchange with a Love's truck stop and Moses' Store is in Columbia, just like the Tennessean truck stop is in Cornersville. Those businesses benefit the municipalities' revenue from fuel tax payments.

"We have the funding in place for the engineering," Columbia's mayor said of the project at U.S. Highway 412 (also known as Route 99) and I-65.

"It's a safety issue out there ... for people going north and south," Dickey said. "Trucks stop there for fuel."

TDOT plans "to extend ramps and widen them, and where we have two lanes under the bridge, we'll have five," Dickey said. "It's going to take some time."

Asked how long, the Columbia mayor replied, "We would hope it's done in three years."

Dickey noted State Route 50 has been resurfaced recently in Maury County, much in the same way it was a couple of years earlier in Marshall County, providing a smoother surface that provides better gas mileage.

Asked if state roads are smooth enough, Schroer replied, "They can always get a little better... We analyze pavement every year. We have all sorts of studies about how to put down pavement smoother, more efficiently with less pavement so we can do it less expensively."

Schroer spoke of funding challenges, and one of them struck a chord with Jim Sloan, proprietor of the Ford-Lincoln dealership in Columbia.

TDOT is funded through fuel taxes. Hybrid and electric vehicles use less, or no petroleum fuel. Furthermore, President Obama recently announced an agreement that requires U.S. automakers to have a fleet average of 50 mpg in a few years.

"The thing that bothered me more than anything else was the funding" for TDOT, Sloan said of TDOT's funding formula and the prospect that fewer gallons of gasoline will be sold in Tennessee.

"That's a real challenge for the future," said Sloan who learned from Schroer that the commissioner had once been an auto dealership manager.

Regardless of its effect on TDOT revenue, Schroer said, increased vehicle fuel efficiency "is the right thing to do."

Meanwhile, Columbia's mayor acknowledged that "Mooresville Pike has been a safety issue," given the nature of the two-lane road.

"If we could just get the intersection reconstructed," Dickey said. "It seems like that was a pattern they used" years ago.

TDOT's commissioner was serenaded before his unscripted remarks. It's customary for the Kiwanis Club to sing a song before their speaker is introduced and the member who selected Thursday's song distributed several lyrics from Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again."