The Tennessee Department of Transportation still has plans to improve Highway 56 south in DeKalb County and into Warren County along the existing nine mile corridor but construction is months away and will be done in three phases instead of two once it gets started. Bids are to be let for the first two phases of the project by this fall.
Meanwhile plans are still in the works for expansion of Highway 70 (State Route 26) from Highway 53 in Alexandria to Highway 96 in Liberty but while right of way acquisition was long ago acquired for the project, the state has yet to allocate funding. It is included among the projects identified by TDOT to be addressed as part of the IMPROVE ACT adopted by the state legislature last year.
A public meeting was held Friday morning in Smithville with TDOT officials hosted by State Senator Mark Pody and State Representatives Terri Lynn Weaver and Clark Boyd.
According to TDOT, The first two phases of the Highway 56 project are from south of the Warren County line to Magness Road and then on to East Bryant Street in Smithville along the existing route. A new project from State Highway 287 in Warren County to near the DeKalb County line is still under review.
TDOT’s plans call for a new two-lane but the highway (2- 12 feet traffic lanes with turning lanes and wider shoulders along the route) could eventually be expanded to four-lanes in the future. The property has already been acquired to build a new two to four lane highway.
According to Wes Hughen, TDOT Director of Project Development for Region 2,construction would have already taken place had it not been for delays due to environmental issues. There are still stream mitigation concerns to be resolved both with the Highway 56 and Highway 70 projects.
“We have been trying to get the project to construction for some time but we had some issues with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document,” said Hughen.
“The first two sections we expect to have let to construction by late this fall or early winter. We have already acquired all the right of way for those two sections. We will start out building two lanes of a proposed four lane project. We will maintain traffic on the existing Highway 56 (alignment) while we build the new portion and then we will take the old part out. We’ve got connections to driveways to everybody,” said Hughen.
"Once it lets to construction and bids are found to be acceptable, it (contracts) will be awarded within four to six weeks and then sometime after that we would start work but while all the right of ways are available, we will still have to relocate utilities and things like that,” said Ken Flynn, TDOT Director of Operations for Region 2.
The entire Highway 56 project is expected to be completed within three years after construction begins.
TDOT will schedule a public information meeting in May or June to share more specifics about all three phases of the Highway 56 plans.