Eight years down the road, so to speak, the last section of a $60 million, 13-mile, four-lane highway between Warren and Cannon counties is finally open for motorists traveling between McMinnville and Woodbury.
The new U.S. Highway 70S, built alongside its two-lane predecessor, "is the culmination of three separate projects," Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said.
Most of the new highway -- opened to traffic Thanksgiving week -- lies in Warren County, where the biggest industries are nursery operations.
"We think it'll be mostly commuters that it'll help and it'll help our local nursery operations," said Norma Sterchi Clark, office manager at the McMinnville-Warren County Chamber of Commerce. She hopes the highway encourages more people to work in McMinnville, she said.
Warren County, the "Nursery Capital of the World," is home to more than 450 nurseries that ship their stock nationwide, Clark said. The county's nursery industry got its start in the 1880s, stemming from a thriving orchard and apple brandy business of the 19th century, according to historical accounts.
The new path is only about two-tenths of a mile shorter than the old highway, but it's two lanes wider with improved access on either side from State Route 281 in Cannon County to Spring Valley Road in Warren, officials said.
Chamber administrative assistant Sigourney Younglove tried out the new road after it opened Nov. 24 and praised its easier travel.
"You can actually get to Woodbury a lot quicker," Younglove said, attributing the speedier commute to the new road's wide lanes, higher speed limits and straighter path.
She said the new four-lane is an important improvement to the four-lane link farther west leading to Murfreesboro.
The project consisted of a $14.9 million six-mile section completed in April 2012 in Warren County, a second, $23.7 million seven-mile-long section completed in December 2013 leading into Cannon County and the third $21.2 million phase of work to pave, install drainage, guardrails, signs and the final layer of pavement to tie the entire stretch together, according to Flynn.
The first stage was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and second and third phases were funded with national highway money requiring a 20 percent local match.
Flynn said the original completion date was September 2013, but the contractor was granted an extension "because of some unexpected issues regarding a gas line."
There's still some work remaining, but it won't interfere with traffic.
"The remaining work to complete the transition ends will take approximately six weeks, weather permitting," Flynn said.
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