CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The $54 million State Route 60 widening project from near Interstate 75's Exit 25 to Eureka Road at the edge of the Hopewell community got underway Thursday with ceremonially tossed shovels of dirt.
The contractor on the project is starting work immediately on utilities along the nearly 3-mile-long project.
"This part of State Route 60 is a two-lane, it's got ditches on both sides but what we're replacing it with has got everything," Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Clay Bright said during a news conference Thursday on a church lawn near the project start site.
The replacement project will boost the present two-lane road known by many in Bradley County as Georgetown Road to a five-lane road - two lanes in each direction with a dedicated center turn lane - with paved shoulders, curb and gutter, sidewalks and street lighting, Bright said, noting now "pedestrians will be able to use this part of the roadway."
State Route 60 widening project breaks ground
Bright also said the three public schools in the project area will benefit from improved safety and access.
The project was designed by TDOT, according to Bright, and the process has taken a long time. He said it takes time to learn about the requirements of various underground utilities that must be understood and included in design work on the front end rather than trying to solve issues as they come up.
"That did impact our schedule as far as getting started, that impacted right-of-way [acquisition], and COVID certainly didn't help us in that process," he said. "It's much better for us to solve those problems ahead of time."
Bright praised state and federal lawmakers and officials who have worked to get the project to the starting line.
"This project could not be possible without the passage of the IMPROVE Act," Bright said, referring to a 2017 state law known as the Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy Act, which generates funding for transportation projects.
State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland - House Transportation Committee chair - recalled lawmakers' debates and discussions during his time in the General Assembly that eventually led to the current project.
"It's going to enhance Cleveland and Bradley County," Howell said. "I'm excited for the people of this community because it's going to improve their lives."
State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said the project was a long time coming.
"Discussions on this started back in '98 or '99," Bell said.
"I lived out in Camelot subdivision, which is about two miles beyond Hopewell school, from '78 to '85," Bell said. "This road was bad back then, and this is going to be such a blessing."
Rep. Mark Hall, R-Cleveland, also the state House Transportation Committee vice chair, thanked the community for its patience with the long effort to get the project rolling, while Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks was a bit more dramatic.
"Here at last, here at last, thank God almighty, here at last," Brooks said.
After dropping off a grandchild at Cherokee Elementary School on Thursday morning, Brooks said, he thought, "I can't wait for that road to be finished."
Brooks thanked city and county officials who teamed up to support the project, as did Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis, who recalled when local officials ranked top priorities for TDOT 20 years ago.
"Dalton Pike was No. 1, Georgetown Road was No. 2, North Lee Highway was No. 3," Davis said. "As soon as Dalton Pike got done, this one became No. 1."
Davis said he looked forward to recognizing the project's completion. The project awarded to Greeneville, Tennessee-based Summers-Taylor will be completed by Aug. 25, 2025, according to TDOT.
According to spokesperson Rae-Anne Bradley, the design includes the realignment of State Route 60 and several side roads to improve safety and sight distance, and the construction of a new bridge over Candies Creek and upgraded intersections and traffic signals at Crown Colony Drive, Villa Drive, Paul Huff Parkway and Eureka Road.
Bell said the project is the first of three phases of work to widen State Route 60. Phase 2 will extend from Eureka Road to the Georgetown community, and phase 3 will continue widening the highway to the intersection with State Route 58 in Hamilton County, he said.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.