By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
Historic Old Natchez Trace Road dates back to the early 1800s. The highway commission approved road improvement plans after weeks of research. PHOTO BY KERRI BARTLETT
After putting the brakes on Old Natchez Trace Road improvement plans last month to undertake further research, the Williamson County highway commissioners recently approved the project to roll forward – gently.
Proposed improvements to the scenic road struck a historically sensitive cord among stakeholders living in the surrounding area. Community preservation activists spoke out, urging highway officials not to make improvements at the expense of the road’s historical context.
“It’s a victory for everyone. We are all on the same side in preserving Old Natchez Trace. It’s truly a national treasure, and it is being treated with respect,” said Laura Turner, spokesperson for Citizens for Old Natchez Trace.
“We just want a comforting quilt of asphalt,” Turner reported previously to the Herald.
The original unpaved pathway was created by the Mississippian Native Americans, which served as an important trade link for centuries. A portion of the road even meanders through an area called Old Town, where a highly developed Native American society thrived between 900 and 150 A.D. according to Williamson County historical records. Old Natchez Trace Road paved over portions of the original trail.
Highway commissioners approved a concept plan August 7 that allows Collier Engineering Company, Inc. to move forward with preliminary plans, including surveys and design for the project.
This includes replacing the 16-foot wide bridge located between Temple Road and Moran Road and repaving the four-mile stretch from Old Hillsboro Road to Sneed Road.
Currently, the narrow bridge allows only one car to pass, which could be dangerous, said Chad Collier.
“Our main goal is to enhance safety. We would like to widen the bridge so that two cars can pass.”
Collier said that widening the road where the bridge is located from about 16 feet to 19-20 feet across should create a safe two-way pass.
Nineteen or 20 feet is a conservative measurement, Collier said.
“We didn’t go by normal engineering standards [a measurement of about 22 feet for roads] for the project due to its historical context. It would’ve been detrimental if we did.”
The road ranges in width from about 16 feet to 25 feet along the winding corridor, which will be configured to a universal 19-20 feet along the path, according the improvement plans.
Hawkins Partners, Inc. is working as consultants with Collier Engineering, in order to maintain the historic authenticity of the locally coveted road.
“They are the foremost experts on context sensitive design,” Collier said.
A stakeholders meeting will be held for resident review once preliminary plans are completed according to Collier, which he estimates will be January or February of 2014.
County Commissioner Ernie Williams, also chairman of the budget committee, lives off of Old Natchez Trace Road. He has supported repaving the road in a sensitive way due to its historical significance.
“I am very pleased with the plans,” Williams said.
“I am glad that the plans were delayed for further research. The presentation was outstanding. Everyone is pleased. Old Natchez Trace needed to be preserved.”
Posted on: 8/14/2013