Mark Randall, a project engineer in our Pulaski, [...]
Our office in Pulaski, Tennessee works with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) often to perform Road Safety Audits. While we’re all business completing these important tasks, we spend a lot of time on the road seeing beautiful scenery, unique sites, and eating delicious local food.
There are 95 counties in Tennessee, and I’ve visited 90 of them mostly through work travels. Recently, my usual partner in crime, designer Justin Watson, and I were in Memphis and then a month later in upper east Tennessee – from one corner of the state to the other. Our location in east Tennessee had us situated closer to Canada than we were to Memphis. This is one of my favorite things about doing safety work; I get to see places throughout the state I might not have visited otherwise.
Our safety audits start out with a meeting in Nashville at the beginning of the week. Then we set out for the site and meet with a multidisciplinary team that may include representatives from TDOT, local officials, highway superintendents, police chiefs and others. We ride through the area, which is usually a corridor that could be half a mile long or up to 16 miles long. We typically do more than one audit at a time, so we may do a lot of traveling between projects throughout the week.
Of all the places I’ve been, Chattanooga is probably my favorite city. You can easily spend time in the mountains or be on the river. I also love the Cumberland Gap, which is a narrow pass in the Appalachian Mountains where Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee meet. The Sequatchie Valley west of Chattanooga is covered in green, rolling farmland. In another area of the state we did a project in a beautiful valley in Johnson County named Roan Valley after Daniel Boone’s horse. There is a historic farm there, Maymead Stock Farm, which has been in the same family since 1746.
From one of our projects in Memphis, we could see the “The Pyramid.” It was originally built as a 20,142-seat arena located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Formerly home to the NBA Memphis Grizzlies, it’s now a huge Bass Pro Shop. A couple of years ago we did a project near Oak Ridge, which was established in 1942 as a production site for the Manhatten Project. In Petros, on a 16-mile stretch of very curvy road that is popular with motorcyclists and the site of many crashes, we encountered Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary which housed James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr. The prison is being turned into a distillery set to open next year. I love seeing unique attractions like this that are off the beaten path but so full of history.
Of course, on our travels we also encounter great food, and in Tennessee it’s often all about the barbecue. The TDOT folks always know the best local places to eat and give us great suggestions. We can’t go to Memphis without eating at our favorite place, BBQ Shop on Madison. We recently checked out Ridgewood BBQ in Bluff City. It’s always fun to find great restaurants in surprising places like Mountain City. This small, rural town is home to Suba, a really nice restaurant with two professionally trained chefs. Our favorite place in Chattanooga is the Boathouse, overlooking the Tennessee River, and a new favorite in Johnson City is Bella Vita, a hole in the wall locally owned Italian restaurant.
We never know what we’ll see or find, and that’s one thing I love about Tennessee. My sister recently graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans, and my gift to her was a 10-day road trip through northern California. It was an awesome trip (and I loved checking out all the roads, which drove Jessie crazy!), but afterwards when someone commented to me that being home in Tennessee must be a letdown, I was happy to tell them our state can really hold its own. There’s nothing like our green, rolling hills, mountains and valleys. Or our food!