State road could be most expensive driveway in Middle TN - WSMV Channel 4

State road could be most expensive driveway in Middle TN

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FRANKLIN, TN (WSMV) -

Many of us have been hearing about the project forever and have been paying for it for more than 25 years.

State Route 840 is almost complete, and if you are like most drivers, you still don't understand where to get on and off it.

But there is a spot in Williamson County that may confuse you even more. Some might even call it the most expensive driveway in Middle Tennessee.

A driveway can say a lot about a place, but you would have to look far and wide to find a driveway quite like Squeaky Stewart's.

On the map, it's called Frontage Road H. It doesn't go anywhere, but it is the only way in or out of the hilltop Stewart has called home for nearly 40 years.

"This road is crazy. It should have never been built," Stewart said.

Brand new, and just shy of a mile long, the road it not just his driveway.

You paid for it, the state says. The dead-end frontage road cost you, the taxpayer, $1.6 million.

"A lot of wasted money in my opinion," Stewart said.

And Stewart says the addition of the frontage road could have been avoided altogether.

But to understand what happened and didn't happen here, you have to turn back the clock to a time when plans for State Route 840 were not only swallowing land but also dividing a community.

In rural Williamson County, it seemed half wanted a highway exit near quaint Liepers Fork and half were dead set against. The nays won.

No big interchange was coming to the area in front of Stewart's house, but there was no way to get to it either.

The first plans called for bulldozers.

Stewart dug in his heels and held out. He says he did not want to sell off his hilltop privacy, at least not for the price the state was offering.

"And we worked with this property owner and with our Citizens Resource Team to re-design this road to save his property," said Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman B.J. Doughty.

They wanted to save not only a portion of his land, but also access to two plots behind him that no one has ever lived on.

The vacant land is so steep and wooded some say it could never be developed. Still, the state opted not to buy it all, but to spend more, providing access to all three sites with Frontage Road H.

"Had we not constructed this access road, we would have had to pay them what's called loss of access. It basically means that they then have a piece of property that's worthless because you cant access it from anywhere," Doughty said.

"This property, according to the courthouse, is only worth maybe $560,000, and they've probably put a $5 million road in here. And nobody wants to do anything about it, but it's already done," Stewart said.

"And now that it's reality, it seems to us that he wishes we could turn back the clock and just buy his property," Doughty said.

On paper, you might argue that would have made more sense.

"The department looked at the cost of buying all of that property versus constructing the frontage road," Doughty said.

Buying it all, even back in 2009, would have cost the state less than $1 million and would not have necessitated such a road. The state claims the road, originally priced by at $2.5 million, was a bargain at nearly $1 million less.

Add to that the price of re-locating power lines down into a steep ravine and out again and replacing what had been a small drainage pipe with a concrete bridge.

Some suspect the enhanced frontage road was a convenient way for the contractor to service the overall project by maneuvering the dozers, trucks and supplies needed to get around the rough terrain and follow the strict rules for the jobsite.

Bell Construction finished on time and won a $3 million bonus for that.

Regardless, the road, or driveway if you will, now reverts to the taxpayers of Williamson County to re-pave and repair for years to come.

"It's not just his driveway," Doughty said.

The state maintains it was sensitive to a longtime homeowner and made the concessions it could.

"It's difficult to look at something on paper, and then when it's actual reality in front of your home, it's a whole different ballgame," Doughty said.

While Stewart says he's got a driveway as big as an exit ramp, and the county to take care of it, he says he'll never have privacy again.

"I own 20 acres, or did own 20 acres, and I had the beauty of no noise, nobody around. But you can't find it anymore," Stewart said. "It's hard to find a good old piece of privacy, country privacy."

And there's a late update to our story.

As of Monday evening, parts of Frontage Road H are closed.

There is already a big split in the middle of the pavement and suspicion that the structure might be settling. A crack has grown even deeper, and there is now a tarp covering the center of the road.

The state says its engineers are looking into it.

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