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State Route 840 project teaches valuable lessons

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By Commissioner GERALD NICELYTennessee Department of Transportation

In early February, TDOT will open construction bids on the final portion of State Route 840, the highway that makes a half circle south of Nashville. Once the 78-mile route is complete, it will provide a connection between Interstate 40 east and west of Nashville, Interstate 65, and Interstate 24. By spring of 2010, there will be 18 miles of roadway under construction. The goal is to have the entire route open to traffic by the end of 2012.

State Route 840 is one of the most significant corridor projects TDOT has undertaken in the past several decades. It was initiated in 1986 as part of the state's Better Roads Program to provide economic growth by improving access to communities in Middle Tennessee. (When completed, the roadway will connect Wilson County to Dickson County.) Now, more than 20 years later, the project has proven to be the driving force behind monumental changes in the way TDOT handles large construction projects across the state. These changes have resulted in projects that include valuable input and support from communities, as well as practices that better protect Tennessee's environment.

The controversy over the last sections of SR 840 led TDOT to form one of the first Citizen Resource Teams in the state. The group, comprised of concerned citizens and property owners, worked tirelessly with TDOT engineers and designers for months to finalize the alignment and features of the road. The work that we accomplished together also became a model for the department's Context Sensitive Solutions process. CSS is a philosophy of doing business, partnering TDOT with the citizens of Tennessee in creating transportation projects that complement the natural beauty, economic vitality and livability of the state. TDOT now has a number of CSS projects underway in different areas, and we continue to search for new ways to implement this process.

The SR 840 projects have also led to unprecedented measures designed to protect the environment. Of particular concern are the high quality streams located in the path of the roadway and how to prevent them from being impacted by run-off from the construction activity. In fact, TDOT and the U.S. Geological Survey have been researching ways to reduce erosion at construction sites and keep sediment from degrading nearby streams. This research includes monitoring devices at several locations on the SR 840 projects under construction. So far, there have been no major changes in water quality since the work began.

Even though the SR 840 project is moving ever closer to completion, for us, it signifies a new beginning. The lessons learned throughout will serve the department for years to come. They will lead to transportation projects that balance safety and mobility, community values, protection of the environment and keep Tennessee in motion.

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