By Commissioner GERALD NICELYTennessee Department of Transportation
Nearly a half million Tennesseans were expected to hit the road Labor Day to enjoy the last days of summer by vacationing or visiting family. These travelers would pass some of the people for whom this holiday was created, American workers. In this tough economic climate, the Labor Day holiday has a special significance. While some Tennesseans were traveling, others are happy to simply be called workers.
Across the state, the signs of recovery are beginning to show. Nearly 200 transportation improvement projects are now underway in Tennessee, providing jobs to real people, like Robin Pattinson, who lives in Ripley. Robin was recently featured on a CBS Evening News report as one person rebuilding bridges and making a living thanks in part to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Robin had been laid off from work for several months before the contractor he works for received several Recovery Act projects and put Robin back to work back in April. Robin says the work helped save his home and eased strains on his new marriage.
Across the state in Elizabethton, Bill Allen is working as a subcontractor to rebuild an aging bridge right next door to his home and businesses and was able to hire others in his town to work on the job. Bill is helping replace a bridge that his father saw constructed back in 1941, knowing his efforts will allow his children, grandchildren and future generations to drive across this newer, safer bridge for decades to come.
These are just two stories from two small bridge projects on opposite ends of the state, but they offer hope that we are beginning to come out of this long recession: Tennesseans working to improve Tennessee. In our state alone, 190 highway and bridge projects totaling nearly $480 million in Recovery Act funds are under way. Across America, nearly 3,000 jobs totaling $6.1 billion are under contract. From major highway projects, like the I-40 interchange improvement project in Nashville, to smaller jobs, like replacing that bridge next to Bill Allen in Carter County, Tennesseans are at work improving the infrastructure in our state. Of course, the people who drive on these roadways and bridges will reap the benefits of this hard work. Good roads save drivers an average of 3 cents per mile in vehicle operating costs, and projects to reduce congestion, like the widening of Highway 66 in Sevier County, result in time savings for drivers and increased tourism opportunities for communities.
The combination of Recovery Act projects and those funded through our regular program means numerous work zones are going up across our state. Please, remember to observe work zone speed limits and stay alert for changing conditions. The workers you pass in roadway construction projects are working to make your commute better and to provide for their families. Please honor them by always respecting their work place and driving safely.