FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — A 78-mile stretch of highway that loops south of Nashville and has taken 26 years to finish will ease traffic congestion and be a boost for the economy, state officials said Friday.
Gov. Bill Haslam ceremoniously opened the final portion of state Route 840, which was to start taking on traffic at 6 p.m. Friday. Former Govs. Don Sundquist and Winfield Dunn and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander attended.
It took about $750 million to construct the divided highway that runs from Interstate 40 near Dickson to Interstate 40 near Lebanon.
The project began during the Alexander administration, but the section through Williamson County was slowed by litigation over environmental issues and regulations.
In making light of the lengthy time to build the highway, Transportation Commissioner John Schroer noted some workers spent their entire careers on state Route 840, then quipped, "some children were born during the building of 840 and now they're working on the project."
"We have to have some humor in the fact that this has taken a little longer to get done than we would have liked," he said.
Alexander said in 1985 that he was talking to General Motors about attracting Saturn and their suppliers to Tennessee, which meant more jobs. He was told the suppliers are attracted to high quality highway systems, and that birthed state Route 840.
Alexander said the highway has long-term benefits.
"Looking ahead 30 years, I expect state Route 840 to relieve congestion, and to be a magnet for jobs with ... auto suppliers," he said.
Some of the speakers noted that the highway was built without federal money, which saved the state millions of dollars in interest. However, others said the project probably could have been completed much sooner if it weren't for the litigation.
A Williamson County judge in 2000 ordered a permanent halt to construction in a scathing ruling that said the TDOT commissioner had engaged in "abuse of power" in violating department and state environmental standards in plans for the highway.
That decision was overturned by the state appeals court a year later on jurisdictional grounds.
"We've just got to reduce the number of lawsuits that we have," Sundquist said. "All these things cost so much money. Think of how many roads since this project started could have been built if we didn't have these delays, if we didn't have the regulations that we have to follow too often."
Haslam, who joined the former governors in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, noted that "it does take a long time to make big things happen in government."
"There're some good reasons for that, and some not so good reasons," he said.
Regardless of the reasons, Rhonda Williams said she's glad to see the highway finally completed. The McMinnville resident was traveling in Nashville about a year ago when she was in a traffic accident. She believes the new highway will relieve the traffic congestion in Nashville by giving motorists an alternate route.
"This is so wonderful," said the 46-year-old. "Anything that eases the congestion that we have in and out of Nashville makes our live a lot more peaceful."