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Leeann Judkins


By LeAnn


This will be a three part series…… please put that however it’s suppose to read)


“I don’t like it” and “It’s wasted money” are the consensus statements from the many local citizens who must travel on the new Highway 56 South variant that replaces the former, yet favored, McMinnville Highway in Smithville, Tennessee.  During these interviews throughout the county, there was not one person who was in favor of the new road’s construction, and thus, the finalization.  Maybe it was one out of one hundred people.


The brief history of State Route 56 is further explained, “The stretch of SR 56 between I-40 and Smithville was notorious for terrible curves prior to the late 1970’s, but it was rebuilt and is now considered a good route to follow.  Small sections of the original alignment that still exist are now maintained by the county road department of DeKalb and Putnam Counties.”


Of utmost importance, TDOT held several introductory meetings in DeKalb County for residents to become familiar with non-annexation and the preliminary scales of the new variant.  Reading maps and correlating numbers are almost monstrosities.


However, this conceptual negativity is the timely, periodic and miraculous consensus of most local DeKalb Countians when observing and denoting and exemplifying the many exterior problems associated with the recently constructed Highway 56 South or, more commonly known as, the McMinnville highway in Smithville, Tennessee.  As of today, there is no cumulative total of visitors positive or negative opinions concerning the new variant.


The new bid was $43,591,948 and it was awarded in 2019 for the project, which extends only eight (8) miles from south of the Warren County line into DeKalb County. The final Stage 3, not yet let, get closer to Smithville where some of the intersecting roads are offset, there will be some extended sections of three lanes.  Not yet materialized and from Stage 3 to Vaughn Lane, we will be expanding to the three-lane typical all the way up to just past Morgan Branch.  When we get past Morgan Branch, we will be building a five-lane section with the curb and gutters and sidewalks,” said Robert Rogers of the TDOT Region 2 Project Development Office.  The state will deviate from the existing road in the Shiney Rock area in order to bypass the cemeteries.  The highway will then tie back in to the existing alignment in Smithville.”  (Please note:  The latest observation does not mention cemeteries – it does, however, mention “limited sight distance” as the only cause for not having passing lanes on the eight-mile road.)


For those who question the new variant, please know, “The old McMinnville highway could have been saved and used with only adding wide shoulders and straighter curves,” said a DeKalb County citizen proficient in the new highway’s construction who asked not to be identified.  The curved roads seem to be a negative consensus among the new variant refurbishing guidelines.


When asked why the new highway was constructed, the answer was revealed, “It all began when local attorney Frank Buck was the elected state representative many years ago and while having a monstrously productive tenure in the Legislature, he expressively wanted a new four-lane highway.   Seemingly, the work stalled when Buck later suffered a serious life-threatening stroke and became incapacitated.  However, within the following state office holder’s fluctuation (Terri Lynn Weaver and Mark Pody, etc.), changes kept being made to the final transportation orders as stipulated within the architectural rendering.  Thus, toward the end, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) said that they couldn’t build a four-lane highway because of having to relocate the graves at Whorton Springs and DeKalb Memorial Gardens Cemeteries (see below).”  Thus, without local permission, they immediately changed their four-lane confirmed orders and made the new highway variant into two lanes!  “TDOT changed it to save money,” remarked a disgruntled citizen.  Question:  If the new road construction plan was released to the public for several years preceding, then why didn’t the contractors (Jones Brothers of Lebanon) alert TDOT that the two cemeteries would prevent the construction of four lanes?  And, why weren’t the taxpayers earlier notified of this problem?  They were notified of the initial four-lane construction.  An unknown number of their families and friends are buried within these cemeteries.  It sounds like a miscommunication between the contractor (Jones Bros.) and the transportation department (TDOT). Please note: Within Rae-Anne Bradley’s (TDOT) current statement, there is no reference to the two cemeteries.  It was aforementioned in the 2018 press releases and partially continued until the road’s completion.  Personally, why could they not build two lanes into the cemetery areas only, then switch back to four lanes?  Too much mathematical reasoning?


Four specific problems already visible within the $5.5 million per mile ($44 million total) highway renovation include:

·     There are no passing lanes or turning lanes for the entire eight-miles of the newly constructed road.  Simply stated, if you begin driving on the new variant, then expect to continue in the same direction for the newly-constructed eight miles!  What about ambulances and other medical transportation?  TDOT is emphatic that the cause is the lack of “sight distance.”

·     There are no five-lane roads as stipulated in the highway agreement. 

·     The total sidewalks are only located within the city limits areas.  There are none in differing arenas as the contract had earlier stipulated that there would be.

·     There is a new three-way stop sign at the end of College Street.  “No one is ever at this intersection.  It is also thoroughly wasted.  Any, and all, connected roads are now a pain!” expressed a local driver.


In a recent media communication with Rae-Anne Bradley, TDOT Community Relations Officer, she kindly answered my following question: “Why was a two-lane road constructed and not a four-lane?”  “When designing this project, the roadway did not have the traffic volume or capacity to qualify for a four-lane.  So instead, TDOT constructed what we call a ‘Super 2,’ (see definition below) which is a two-lane roadway with full shoulders, and we added left turn lanes at intersections, among several other improvements.  This two-lane roadway,’ she continued, “is a vast improvement compared to the old State Route 56.  Reducing the footprint of projects (when it makes sense, based on our studies, data, standards, and research) saves the Department both time and money, allowing us to get a project off the ground much faster.” Time equals money?!


The definition of a “Super 2” highway from is: “A two-lane surface road built to highway standards with wide lanes and other safety features normally present on a freeway with more lanes, typically including partial control of access, occasional passing lanes, and hard shoulders.  It is often built for eventual conversion to a divided highway status once traffic volumes rise…” 

In the “Roadway Activity Report for parts of East and Middle Tennessee (October 19-25, 2023),’ the warning is posted: “DEKALB COUNTY SR-56 resurfacing from Easy Bryant Street (LM 7.5) to East Church Street (LM 80):  The Contractor will be on site continuing paving and milling operations.  During the work, the Contractor will utilize land closures and flaggers to control the flow of traffic through the work zone.  Motorists are encouraged to use caution and to be prepared to stop.”  (LM is the abbreviation for “Line Marker,” and SR is “State Route.)                                                                                                                                                      

“There are new traffic patterns,” said long-time WJLE general manager, writer and reporter, Dwayne Page.  “State Highway 56 is not what it used to be and motorists traveling from Smithville to the Warren County line are noticing the differences within these new traffic patterns.”


Furthermore, TDOT’s exploratory word usage through its current definition of the new State Highway 56 is referred to as the “highway alignment.”  Accordingly, Webster’s dictionary defines “highway alignment” as “the position or layout of center line of the highway on the ground.  It involves the positioning of the road about the environment, and it must consider topography, traffic volumes, existing road infrastructure, etc.” 



TDOT Public Information Officer Bradley said on October 18, 2022 (last year) that the state is building largely two lanes with 10-foot shoulders along the route. She continued, “This consists of construction of bridges and paving from south of the Warren County-DeKalb County line – to East Bryant Street.  When the contract is completed, it will be a two-lane highway (one lane in each direction) and there will be some left turn lanes at various side roads, but inside the Smithville city limits near the end of the project, there will be five (5) lanes (two in each direction) with a continuous dedicated center turn lane.  It will transition from two lanes to five lanes!  This will occur approximately 1,100 feet south of East Bryant Street,” Bradley earlier explained.


“There are no turning lanes.  You have to drive the eight miles before you will be able to turn in any direction,” said long-time Smithville resident and former Highway 56 employment commuter, Debra Smith Black.  “Plus, whoever scrapped the total four-lane highway program was crazy!  We didn’t get what we should have.”  She especially recalled the WJLE building and the two cemeteries which are now invisible, located within a “barely visible” location in the far distance of the new project.


Most importantly and pursuantly, there are no five lanes or four lanes contrary to the above document.  Today, the new road is only a regular two-road highway.  The new replacement road also was two-lanes only. (See Bradley’s explanation above)



Bradley further repeatedly elaborated, “The new road is being built adjacent to the old road with several sections crossing over or tying into the existing route.  The new roadway will consist of two or three travel lanes, depending on location, with 10-foot paved shoulders and the design will accommodate left-turn movements to access connecting streets.”  It has been proven that many locals are still using the older McMinnville Highway to navigate to their familiar travel destinations.             


When confronted with this question, “Why are there NO turning lanes in the eight miles stretch of asphalt?  There is a “No turning” medium gridiron painted on the center lines targeting the middle of the highway.


Concerning the lack of turning lanes on the new highway, Bradley further said, “There are left turn lanes throughout the project for side roads and a contentious center turn-lane in the more developed area closer to Smithville. (Are you referring to right turn lanes?)  TDOT installs right-turn lanes from our highways onto side roads when warranted by traffic and turning volumes.   All of the decisions about whether or not to construct right turn lanes here would have happened nearly a decade ago.   If you have a particular intersection in mind, we can examine particular intersections, if requested, to see if a right turn lane would be warranted (see below).  A typical maneuver for drivers traveling along a highway such as this one (with full shoulders) – who need to make a right turn – will later shift their vehicle onto the right shoulder and decelerate to make the turn, even if a turn-lane is not striped.”


Furthermore, should one unexpectedly encounter a vehicle or another problem, where do they pull to the side of the road?  Black said there were a few shoulders in which to move off the highway.  Then, did Jones Brothers Construction Company consider the fact that any automobile can fall and shatter going down a 10-foot embankment? 


Bradly answered my last question, “Why is there a double-yellow-line in the center of the highway that indicates a “no passing” order?  Continuing, “Double yellow lines were installed on this project due to limited sight distance.  This roadway does not have the sight distance needed for a driver to maneuver around another vehicle safely in the time required with the current conditions and speed limit through there.”  My question is if studies revealed these limited sight distances, why wasn’t the construction halted until a better plan could be made and completed?  Did you know before the construction was finalized that it would be eight miles of no-passing lanes from many locations?  Many people are displeased and ticked-off about the new highway.  It has become a menace to local travelers not to mention the landowners.


For further past and present turning-lane discrepancies, a January 7, 2019 website article from WJLE’s Page further quoted the contractor, Robert Rodgers of the TDOT Region 2 Project Development Office: “Once we get to Vaughn Lane, we will be expanding to three lanes typical all the way up past Morgan’s Branch.  When we pass this, we will be building a five-lane section with “curb and gutters and sidewalks. Accordingly, these changes are listed in the Phase 3 regional work chart, which “hasn’t been completely finalized yet.”  Phase 3 incorporates the areas past the DeKalb County line; thus, it will begin around the Warren County line.


Local cosmetologist, Teresa Wright, who travels the new highway once weekly said, “I don’t like it!  It’s a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.”


In conclusion, Kevin Robinson, DeKalb County’s Supervisor of Public Works, said Tuesday, “They said two years ago (2021) that they were going to put in turning lanes, but they never have.”  He continued expressing his dissatisfaction with the highway, “To start with, I don’t know why the new highway was built.”


Excluding the prior remarks, the following two final conclusions are left for your final thoughts and final judgments:


·     Total of new road construction:  $5.5 million per mile x 8 miles equals $44 million dollars total.

·     Or, total of repairing the old McMinnville Highway by adding wider shoulders and straighter curves.  This total was not available at press time.


These are my personal thoughts.  Yes, TDOT had many county-wide meetings explaining the State Route #56 improvements to the citizens of DeKalb County.  Yet, I have found most people cannot differentiate between maps and the real thing.  Which means the written explanations are not the same as seeing the finalized project – an in-person viewing. Today, people are upset because they couldn’t understand the maps?  It’s a “blind leading the blind” scenario.


As an added notation, “State Route 56 (SR 56) is a 160.6-mile-long state highway that runs south to north in middle Tennessee from the Alabama state line near Sherwood to the Kentucky state line near Red Boiling Springs.”  According to the published map, the SR 56 line reaches straight from the Alabama state line directly north across to the Kentucky state line.  Pray for passing lanes!


For further additional information, please call weekdays:

·     Rae-Anne Bradley, TDOT of Putnam County; Public Information Officer;  423-491-9653.

·     Kevin Robinson, Public Works Director of Smithville. City Hall, located around the Courthouse Square; 615-597-6318.

·     Jones Brothers Construction, LLC, 615-864-7388; Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.

·     Danny Hale, DeKalb County Road Supervisor, 615-597-4144.