By THOMAS P. WEAVER, HORIZON Editor
CELINA-With the partial opening of the new Highway 52 here in Celina last week came a new perspective on the surrounding landscape and people are seeing new sights for the first time.
Traffic was diverted off of the old State Route (SR) 52 leading up Shanky Branch and directed up a new divide through territory unseen before by passing drivers.
Heading into town, a glance to the right reveals previously hidden views of the Obey River’s Peterman’s Bend area and the approach to Celina offers a fresh vantage point of the town square.
Besides the new sights, drivers are also encountering other changes.
The busy intersection in front of Cumberland River Hospital became even busier as it now serves as the crossing of the county’s two major thoroughfares–Highways 52 and 53.
Due to that fact, the town’s only flashing yellow light has now become a flashing red light for travelers heading to and from Livingston or the eastern end of Clay County raising the question, “Will Celina finally get a stoplight?”
City mayor Willie Kerr says “yes” and explained he has been working for over a year now to get it done.
“I’ve been working hard on it for some time,” Kerr said Monday. “We definitely need it and I feel good about getting one.”
Kerr explained he had been in contact with State Representative Kelly Keisling and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer and said the commissioner was scheduled to travel here to address the need.
“I feel like the state will take care of it for us,” Kerr said. “It was originally part of the plan, but somehow it got taken out and it will cost the city $100,000 and the city doesn’t have that kind of money.”
The mayor explained he was excited about the addition of the new road and said he felt it would be good for the city.
“I think it will help Celina,” Kerr said. “We are fortunate to have it.”
Be aware of 45 mph limit
Officially, TDOT is calling the partial opening of the new road a “traffic shift,” according to the department’s spokesperson, Jennifer Flynn.
Flynn told the HORIZON Monday due to the fact the project was still under construction, “the speed limit will remain 45 miles per hour until the project is complete,” a limit being closely monitored by the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
With only two of the four lanes being used for two-way traffic at this time and construction ongoing, Flynn explained the reduced speed limit remains necessary despite the road being long and mostly straight, making it inviting to travel faster.
A statement from her office currently described the new alleyway as a “detour” and explained “traffic has been relocated onto a new alignment of Pinkley Avenue at the entrance to Cumberland River Hospital” while the contractor performs “grading and blasting operations north of existing SR-52 (Shanky Branch) to south of SR-53.”
She explained the old SR-52 (Shanky Branch) would be open to “local traffic only” with no “through traffic.”
Project details, completion date
Flynn also provided the HORIZON with details about the project, which is being completed in two phases.
She said the first portion began in November of 2009 and was completed in December of 2012 and is currently supporting four-lane traffic from east of the Overton County line to James White Road. The completed portion was a 3.4-mile section with a $31.2 million cost.
The recently partially opened portion of the project came with a $24,306,543.63 price tag and covers 3.2 miles from James White Road to the intersection here in town.
Flynn said the contractor began the second phase is March of 2011 and had until September of 2014 to complete the project, but explained over 90 percent of the work was done with only 63 percent of the time having been lapsed.
“Because of this, we are very optimistic that the project will be completed early,” she said, “possibly before the end of this year, 2013.”
She said both projects were under the direction of Bizzack Construction, LLC of Lexington, KY.