While campaigning for Henry County Mayor, candidate Tim Wirgau has made a number of comments regarding the Highway 641 North expansion project. I feel it’s imperative I set the record straight.
As many Henry Countians are likely aware, a topic of disagreement during the 2018 election cycle was the gas tax. As a longtime Republican who has been and always will remain steadfastly opposed to tax increases, I was against the gas tax.
In 2017, Wirgau, as your then-state representative, voted in favor of the gas tax, reasoning then and now that it was necessary in order to acquire funding for expansion of 641 North into a four- or five-lane highway.
The problem is that Wirgau failed to obtain any written commitment from then-Gov. Bill Haslam (who promoted the gas tax), from the Tennessee Department of Transportation or from anyone else in state government as to what specific improvements would be made to 641 in exchange for his “yes” vote to the gas tax.
To my knowledge, nothing was put in writing regarding what specific improvements would be made to 641, and I have spent the last year and a half trying to rectify the situation.
After I was elected, survey crews began their work on 641 North on the farms, homes and business properties for right-of-way purposes.
A number of landowners spoke with the survey crews, as they were interested in this dangerous road being improved to four or five lanes.
To their and my surprise, the crews indicated the improvement to 641 was not for a four-lane or five-lane, but simply an improved two-lane.
Upon being contacted by unhappy Henry Countians, I arranged a meeting with TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright, Chief Engineer Paul Degges, House Transportation Chairman Dan Howell, County Mayor Brent Greer and Paris Mayor Carlton Gerrell.
The position of TDOT was that, while the gas tax (i.e., “Improve Act”) provided for “improvements” to Highway 641 North, there was nothing specified in writing what those “improvements” specifically would be, and any “improvement” made satisfied what was required.
TDOT’s position was also that 641 traffic counts didn’t justify its expansion to a four- or five-lane highway.
In short, Wirgau voted for a gas tax increase without getting in writing the road improvements he was trading his vote for.
Yes, the Improve Act does have funding to make improvements to 641 North, but those funds are for making modest improvements, such as engineering and right of way purchases, not for a four- or five-lane highway expansion.
In fact, I specifically asked Chief Engineer Degges, how much money does TDOT need, over and above current gas tax designated funding, to turn Highway 641 North from 218 to the Kentucky line into a divided four-lane. His answer was $25 million.
Since discovering this, I have been working hard to turn lemons into lemonade for Henry County.
Not only have I had ongoing meetings with TDOT, but also I have been working on federal funding to make a four-lane Highway 641 a reality.
Our good friends and neighbors north of us in Murray also have had a longtime dream of a safe, passable road from Interstate 24 in Kentucky to Interstate 40 in West Tennessee.
Kentucky has U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose wife is secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Elaine Chow, advocating for Murray’s interests.
As a result, they were successful in obtaining a U.S. DOT Build Grant to complete a divided four-lane from Murray to Hazel.
Inasmuch as it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have a four-lane from Hazel narrow into a two-lane road at the Tennessee state line, I, along with Greer and Gerrell, have been working for months and months now to obtain a U.S. DOT Build Grant for our area in Tennessee so we can hopefully have at least a completed four-lane from Paris all the way to Murray and beyond to I-24.
I, along with mayors Greer and Gerrell, fully recognize the importance of the Highway 641 expansion project and that it will be a huge attraction for industry and manufacturers looking for locations with four-lane access to interstates.
I remain optimistic about this project and have also been seeking support from U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn as well as Congressman David Kustoff to secure federal funding.
Anyone with questions can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BRUCE GRIFFEY, R-Paris, represents the 75th District, which includes Henry County, in the Tennessee House of Representatives.